U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 21, 2017

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THE WEEK

1. Comey confirms Russia investigation in House hearing
FBI Director James Comey confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday that his agency is investigating whether Russia tried to influence last year’s election, and “whether there was any coordination” between Russia and President Trump’s campaign. Comey declined to provide specifics on whether anyone in particular is suspected of a crime, saying he didn’t want to “wind up smearing people.” The extraordinary acknowledgement of the investigation, which started last July, contradicted Trump’s assertion that “Russia is fake news” his political enemies were using to undermine him. Comey also said there was no evidence to support Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign.

Source: The New York Times, The Washington Post

2. Gorsuch vows to ‘apply the law,’ not make it
Judge Neil Gorsuch vowed Monday not to forget the “modest station we judges are meant to occupy in a democracy” if he is confirmed to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. In his opening statement in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the appeals court judge stressed “the importance of an independent judiciary,” saying it was up to Congress to make laws, up to the executive branch to enforce them, and up to judges to “apply the law in people’s disputes.” Gorsuch is a highly respected conservative jurist. Democrats, in their opening statements, questioned whether Gorsuch would favor businesses over individuals, and questioned the fairness of confirming President Trump’s nominee when Republicans refused to even consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Gorsuch will face questions from committee members on Tuesday.

Source: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

3. House GOP leaders release proposed changes to health law
Top House Republicans late Monday unveiled proposed amendments to their proposal to replace ObamaCare in a bid to win over more lawmakers before a scheduled Thursday vote. The changes would let the Senate increase tax credits for people age 50 to 65, speed up repeal of some ObamaCare tax increases, and make sharper cuts to Medicaid, including letting states impose work requirements for some Medicaid recipients. Members of the House Freedom Caucus said they would still have enough “no” votes to defeat the bill. President Trump plans to reach out to fence-sitters personally on Tuesday in a bid to win over enough votes to pass the plan.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

4. U.S. bans large electronic devices from cabins of some U.S.-bound flights
The Trump administration plans to prohibit travelers on some airlines flying out of several Middle Eastern and North African countries from carrying large electronic devices into the cabins of U.S.-bound flights in response to an unspecified terrorist threat. The rule affects foreign airlines operating out of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Morocco. No American carriers will be affected. Passengers will be able to carry the affected devices, including tablets, laptops, and cameras, in checked luggage.

Source: Reuters, Los Angeles Times

5. Prosecutors grill ousted South Korean president
South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday began questioning ousted former President Park Geun-hye in connection with the corruption investigation that got her ousted from office this month. The interrogation was expected to last hours at a prosecutors’ office. Prosecutors are trying to determine whether there is enough evidence to ask a court for a warrant to arrest Park over the allegations of bribery, extortion, and abuse of office. Park made the latest in a series of apologies before the meeting. “I am sorry to trouble the people,” Park said. “I will respond faithfully to the investigation.”

Source: The New York Times

6. Fox News sidelines commentator after wiretapping claim
Fox News has pulled former judge Andrew Napolitano off the air over his claim that a British intelligence agency had wiretapped Trump Tower during last year’s election campaign at the request of former President Barack Obama. U.S. intelligence agencies say there is no evidence of such a surveillance effort, and the British government called the claim “ridiculous.” Trump has cited Fox in support of his recent tweet accusing Obama of “wiretapping” him, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week quoted Napolitano in defense of Trump’s allegations.

Source: The Hill

7. IRA leader turned peacemaker Martin McGuinness dies
Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader turned peacemaker, died early Tuesday at a hospital in his hometown of Derry. He was 66. McGuinness was diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December. In 1972, he was the IRA’s second-in-command in Derry during the Bloody Sunday killing of 14 civil rights protesters by soldiers, and he was a leader of the paramilitary organization when it was carrying out bombings in the city. Twice imprisoned — once after being caught near an explosives-laden vehicle — he went on to be a key negotiator of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland, and served as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland alongside three Democratic Unionist Party leaders from 2007 to January of this year. Prime Minister Theresa May said she could never condone McGuinness’ earlier path, but he “ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence.”

Source: BBC News

8. Trump drops on Forbes‘ list of world’s wealthiest people
President Trump has dropped 220 spots on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in the year since he ran for, and won, the White House. The list, published Monday, put the net worth of the nation’s first billionaire president at $3.5 billion, a drop of $1 billion since the release of last year’s rankings. Trump is now tied with 19 others as the world’s 544th richest person. Forbes notes that Trump’s fortune was affected by some one-time expenses, such as the $66 million he put into his presidential campaign and the $25 million he had to fork over to settle the Trump University lawsuit. It was his core real estate business that had the biggest impact, however. “Forty percent of Donald Trump’s fortune is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings within one mile of it,” Forbes said, adding that, “Lately, the neighborhood has been struggling (relatively speaking).”

Source: Forbes, CNN

9. FBI finds missing Tom Brady Super Bowl jerseys
The FBI has recovered New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl 51, the NFL announced Monday. The jersey was stolen from the Patriots’ locker room after last month’s game, in which the Patriots made a historic overtime comeback to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28. The FBI found Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey and his game jersey from the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl 49 in 2015, which had also gone missing, “in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media,” the statement said. “I know they worked hard on this case,” Brady said in a statement, “and it is very much appreciated.”

Source: ESPN

10. Philanthropist David Rockefeller dies at 101
Billionaire banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller died Monday at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York. He was 101. Rockefeller was the world’s oldest billionaire, and the last surviving grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller. He served as Chase Manhattan’s president, chairman, and CEO over 35 years at the company, expanding the bank’s international presence and having a hand in U.S. foreign policy and financial affairs. He also won a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 for his philanthropy, and gave more than $900 million over his lifetime to numerous causes, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and his alma mater, Harvard University.

Source: The New York Times, Bloomberg

U.S. Politics

THE MEMO: Five takeaways from Comey’s big day

THE HILL

Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had been eagerly awaited. It lived up to its billing.

Here are the key points as the dust settles.

Comey did real damage to Trump

The FBI director inflicted a double blow on President Trump early on in the hearing.

He first confirmed that the bureau is investigating links between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.

And he stated flatly that he had “no information” to support the president’s assertion, first made on Twitter, that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

The media focus will next turn to whether the bureau will uncover evidence of outright collusion between Team Trump and Moscow.

On the accusation of wiretapping, Comey did not even provide a fig leaf for the White House. In addition to asserting that the FBI has no evidence to support the wiretapping charges, Comey noted, “The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.”

The one-two punch from the FBI director made for a rough day for Trump and his aides.

On Twitter, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called it “the worst day of Donald Trump’s presidency.”

The White House was quick to create distance

White House press secretary Sean Spicer took to the lectern in the press briefing room in the afternoon as Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers were still testifying on Capitol Hill.

Spicer’s briefing was notable for the vigor with which he sought to put distance between the White House and the figures around whom speculation about Russian ties has swirled.

The effort was undermined, however, by Spicer’s insistence that one of those people, Paul Manafort, played “a very limited role” in Trump’s presidential bid.

In fact, Manafort became campaign chairman in May last year and effectively ran Trump’s campaign between June and August.

Spicer’s assertion drew negative comments from a number of prominent reporters, both on Twitter and on cable news, where the networks covered the events intensely throughout the day.

Spicer also took a verbal swing at “hangers-on around the campaign,” which appeared to be a reference to Carter Page, whose level of involvement with Team Trump remains unclear. Page, sometimes described as a campaign adviser on foreign policy, took a trip to Moscow last summer. Concrete details are scarce, and speculation is intense about that trip.

Trump loyalists have long been scathing about Page, but the push against Manafort — and to a more modest degree against controversial GOP consultant and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone — has only set the media’s antennae twitching with the sense that something big is around the corner.

Republicans want to make leaks the real story

While Democrats pushed their belief that there was something nefarious going on between the Trump campaign and Russia, Republicans stuck equally ferociously to insisting that people with access to classified information were leaking it to damage the new administration.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was especially passionate on that topic. At one point, Gowdy appeared to suggest that reporters who published classified information should be prosecuted.

Even Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who is generally seen as a more moderate figure than Gowdy, asserted, “I’ve never seen such a sustained period of leaks.”

Several Republican members of the panel seemed disquieted by how the controversy involving Michael Flynn came into the public domain. Flynn resigned after the shortest tenure ever as national security adviser when it emerged that he had misled Vice President Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

More broadly, however, there seemed to be an attempt to bolster the White House narrative that there is a “deep state” working to undermine the president.

“The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!” the president tweeted on Monday morning.

Comey won’t be easy to sully

The Trump administration can’t have been happy with Comey’s testimony, but so far it is resisting any impulse to go on an all-out attack against him.

The first question Spicer faced at his briefing — from Jonathan Karl of ABC News — was whether the president still had “complete confidence” in the FBI director.

“There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t at this time,” Spicer replied.

While hardly a rip-roaring endorsement, those words underline the trouble the White House faces.

Comey famously earned the ire of Democrats in the closing stretch of last year’s presidential campaign when he announced that the bureau was investigating newly discovered messages possibly related to its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State.

Some in Clinton’s orbit believe Comey’s announcement cost her the election. Whether that is true or not, Team Trump would have a near-impossible task in trying paint Comey as biased against it.

The White House is under a cloud

Near the end of the day’s proceedings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told Comey he had put “a big gray cloud” over the White House.

Nunes, who worked on Trump’s transition team, appeared to be expressing dismay at that reality. But both parties would accept it as a fact.

The political dynamics have changed now that the FBI investigation is public knowledge.

The White House can expect to face questions on a daily basis about the probe, while the media attention on what Comey’s agents are finding, and about whom, will be feverish.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2017

Image result for Neil Gorsuch

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. House panel to hold hearing on Russian election meddling
The House Intelligence Committee on Monday is scheduled to hold a hearing on Russia’s alleged attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), told Fox News on Sunday that he had seen no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. “I’ll give you a very simple answer: ‘No,'” he said. “… There’s no evidence of collusion.” The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, also of California, offered a differing opinion, saying there was “circumstantial evidence of collusion.” The panel, which also is looking into President Trump’s insistence that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped, has called in FBI Director James Comey and Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to testify.

Source: NBC News, The New York Times

2. Duke suffers stunning loss to South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks upset the Duke Blue Devils 88-81 Sunday night to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Duke, the No. 2 seed in the East Region, entered the season ranked No. 1, and after injuries and other setbacks headed into the tournament a title contender after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Duke finished the first half of Sunday’s game with a lead, as expected, over the No. 7 seeded Gamecocks, but could not keep up in the second half as South Carolina shot 71 percent from the field. North Carolina, another ACC powerhouse and the South Region No. 1 seed, narrowly escaped a similar fate on the tournament’s fourth day, blowing a 17-point lead before scoring the game’s final 12 points to beat Arkansas and advance. In the women’s tournament, No. 1-seeded Notre Dame held off No. 9 seed Purdue, 88-82, to reach the round of 16.

Source: Fox Sports, The Associated Press

3. Ryan says House GOP will make changes to health bill
House Republicans are working on amendments to their plan to replace ObamaCare, aiming to increase tax credits for older Americans and add a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Sunday. Democrats oppose the proposal because they say it will cause millions of people to lose their health insurance. The GOP is split over the repeal ObamaCare, a key campaign promise of President Trump, with conservatives saying it leaves too much of the core of former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care reform law in place. Ryan said the House leadership would bring the proposal to a vote on Thursday.

Source: Reuters

4. Senate committee scheduled to start Gorsuch confirmation hearing
Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, heads into his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Gorsuch is a highly regarded federal appeals court judge, and has faced no opposition over his legal credentials. Democrats, who say Gorsuch has sided with business interests over individuals, have vowed to oppose him on principle because Republicans refused to even consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat left vacant when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to hold a confirmation vote before the Senate’s Easter recess begins April 8. Washington, D.C., lawyer Tom Goldstein, who publishes the ScotusBlog website, said Democrats “don’t have the votes and don’t have the goods” to block Gorsuch, so “it would be shocking” if he wasn’t confirmed in the coming weeks.

Source: NBC News

5. Gallup: Trump approval rating falls to new low
President Trump’s job approval rating fell to a new low of 37 percent in the latest Gallup tracking poll, which was released on Sunday. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the poll said they disapproved of Trump’s performance. The three-point drop in Trump’s approval rating came as House Republican leaders face bipartisan opposition to their plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, a key Trump campaign promise. A Fox News poll conducted earlier this month put Trump’s approval rating at 43 percent, a five-percentage-point decline since last month.

Source: Gallup, The Hill

6. Uber’s No. 2 quits
Uber’s president, Jeff Jones, is leaving the ride-hailing company after just six months on the job, Recode reported Sunday. Jones left Target last fall to join Uber as its No. 2 executive, and one of his jobs was repairing the business’ image, which has been tainted by charges of sexism and sexual harassment. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber,” Jones said in a statement. His departure comes shortly after Uber’s embattled CEO, Travis Kalanick, began a search for a chief operating officer to help him get the company back on track.

Source: Recode, CNN

7. Ex-North Carolina police chief detained at airport
Former Greenville, North Carolina, police chief Hassan Aden said Sunday that he was detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for 90 minutes because of his name. The alleged incident occurred earlier this month when Aden, 52, was returning from Paris after a visit to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday. Aden said a customs officer asked whether he was traveling alone, then told him to “take a walk.” “I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go,” said the Italian-born Aden, a naturalized citizen who has lived in the U.S. for 42 years. Aden served in the Alexandria, Virginia, police force for 26 years before taking the job in North Carolina in 2012. He retired in 2015.

Source: The Washington Post

8. 3 American soldiers killed by Afghan officer
Three U.S. soldiers were shot and wounded on Sunday in what appeared to be an insider attack by a member of the Afghan armed forces. The U.S. military identified the attacker as an Afghan officer, saying he opened fire on the Americans at a base in Helmand province. Coalition security forces returned fire to “end the attack,” and killed the alleged attacker, Navy Capt. Bill Salvin said. The shooting occurred during a military training exercise. Such “green on blue” attacks were common years ago, but became rare after most foreign troops left Afghanistan in 2014.

Source: USA Today

9. Former N.Y. Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin dies at 88
Pulitzer-Prize-winning former New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin died Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88. Breslin, who also was a best-selling author, was a fixture in New York City journalism for decades, chronicling city life with a sharp wit and blunt, brash prose. Breslin won a 1986 Pulitzer for commentary. The Pulitzer committee noted that his columns “consistently championed ordinary citizens.” With Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe, Breslin was credited with helping to create “New Journalism,” which infused news reporting with a more literary approach. He once explained what kept him cranking out columns for so long by saying, “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

Source: The New York Times, CBS News

10. Beauty and the Beast smashes Hollywood records
Beauty and the Beast took in $170 million at the North American box office over its debut weekend, breaking the record for the biggest March opening that was set last year by Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Disney musical, which mixes live-action scenes with fully digital characters, also made $180 million in overseas ticket sales, putting it on track to make $1 billion worldwide before it leaves cinemas. “The world is a pretty cynical place right now, and Beauty and the Beast gave audiences an opportunity to go back to a time of innocence,” said Greg Foster, chief executive of IMAX’s filmed entertainment.

Source: The New York Times

U.S. Politics

U.S. Supreme Court’s ideological balance at stake in upcoming Gorsuch confirmation fight

Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch meets with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

RAW STORY

When President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is sworn in for his Senate confirmation hearing on Monday, Democrats will make the case that he is a pro-business, social conservative insufficiently independent of the president.

In a bid to place hurdles in the way of Gorsuch’s expected confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate, Democrats on the judiciary committee have said they will probe him on several fronts based mainly on his record as a federal appeals court judge and a Justice Department appointee under former President George W. Bush.

Gorsuch has served on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006. He would replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. If confirmed by the Senate, Gorsuch would restore a narrow 5-4 conservative majority on the court.

Among questions he will face will be whether he is sufficiently independent from Trump, who has criticized judges for ruling against his bid to restrict travel from Muslim-majority countries.

“The high burden of proof that Judge Gorsuch has to meet is largely a result of the president who nominated him,” Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut who sits on the committee, said last week at an event featuring several plaintiffs who lost cases that came before Gorsuch.

Another line of attack previewed by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at the same event is to focus on rulings Gorsuch, 49, has authored in which corporate interests won out over individual workers.

“Judge Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge but his record and his career clearly show he harbors a right wing, pro-corporate special interest legal agenda,” Schumer said.

One case involved truck driver Alphonse Maddin, who was fired after he disobeyed a supervisor and abandoned his trailer at the side of a road after the brakes froze. Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion as a three-judge panel ruled last year that Maddin was wrongly terminated and had to be reinstated with back pay.

Another issue, set to be pressed by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, is Gorsuch’s role as a Justice Department lawyer under Bush from 2005 to 2006, when he helped defend controversial policies enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including the administration’s expansive use of aggressive interrogation techniques.

Gorsuch’ views on social issues, including a 2006 book he wrote in which he argued against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, will be discussed too.

In the book, Gorsuch cited the “inviolability of human life,” calling it a “basic good,” which some conservatives say could indicate that he is also opposed to abortion. Conservative activists have for decades sought to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

Republicans have praised Gorsuch’s 11-year record on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Notwithstanding Gorsuch’s superb qualifications and principled approach to judging, Democrats and their liberal allies strain mightily to find plausible grounds to oppose his nomination,” Hatch said in a newspaper article on Friday.

Known for his genial demeanor and keen intellect, Gorsuch will, like prior nominees, seek to engage with senators as much as possible while declining to answer specific questions.

Much is at stake for Trump and his Republican Party. If confirmed as expected given the Republicans’ control of the 100-member Senate, Gorsuch would restore the court’s conservative tilt. Doing that without too much drama would be Trump’s biggest win so far as president.

With the United States divided sharply between liberals and conservatives, ideological dominance of the Supreme Court, where justices serve for life, is a blue-ribbon prize, with an impact that can last for decades.

For Democrats, the hearing will dredge up bitter feelings. After Scalia died unexpectedly, former Democratic President Barack Obama nominated a replacement, but Republicans for months refused to consider him, blocking a leftward shift on the court.

Since Scalia’s death the court has been divided equally 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.

In some ways, the fight over Gorsuch will be just a preview of an even bigger battle to come over the next vacancy.

“We’ve known for years, before Justice Scalia passed, that this next president would have two or three Supreme Court nominations,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal group.

Three court justices are elderly. Ruth Bader Ginsburg just turned 84. Her fellow liberal Stephen Breyer is 78. The court’s frequent swing vote, conservative Anthony Kennedy, is 80.

If any of them was to be replaced by a conservative similar to Gorsuch, the court would have a firm 6-3 conservative majority, possibly for decades.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. Politics

Suspense builds over FBI director hearing

FBI Director James Comey speaks at agency headquarters in Washington on March 25, 2015. (Associated Press) **FILE**

FBI Director James Comey speaks at agency headquarters in Washington on March 25, 2015. (Associated Press) 

THE HILL

BY KATIE BO WILLIAMS

FBI Director James Comey’s appearance Monday before the House committee investigating Russian interference in the election could put to the test a fragile truce between the panel’s top Republican and Democrat.

Comey and National Security Agency (NSA) head Adm. Michael Rogers are slated to testify in the House Intelligence Committee’s first open hearing in the probe — a hotly-anticipated panel that is expected to quickly divide members by party.
While it’s unclear how much the pair will be able to discuss openly, lawmakers are expected to be largely united in pushing the FBI director to resolve President Trump’s claim that he was “wiretapped” by his predecessor.
But deep divisions over evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia have some predicting the delicate alliance forged by the panel’s leaders – Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) – may be at risk.
On the surface, the two California lawmakers appear to have little in common, other than a reported mutual regard for the Oakland Raiders.
Schiff represents suburban Los Angeles and is a soft-spoken former prosecutor who chooses his words carefully.
Nunes comes from a deeply agricultural background and is known for his sharp and often colorful criticism – even of his fellow Republicans.
In 2014, Nunes famously called Michigan Republican Justin Amash “al-Qaeda’s best friend in Congress” over his vote on a key surveillance bill.
In a sign of how tense the relationship had become in the early stages of their investigation, the two lawmakers gave dueling press conferences in the same afternoon in February, with Schiff taking the podium in a last-minute appearance to rebuke the chairman.
Nunes had told reporters that he saw no evidence of collusion between Trump associates and Moscow, saying, “what I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there.”
Schiff blasted the comments, suggesting the chairman was prejudging the results of the probe.
“When you begin an investigation, you don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion,” Schiff said.
Since then, Nunes and Schiff have appeared together at press conferences, standing stiffly at the podium, and have jointly signed onto requests for information from various agencies.
One of those joint requests, signed last week, effectively launched the exclusively Republican demand that the committee’s investigation include leaks of sensitive information to the media — an obvious point of compromise on the part of Democrats.
Still, Schiff has consistently said that if the majority party attempts to block important lines of inquiry in the investigation, he will not be shy about going public with his grievances.

“The only way our investigation will have credibility is if we can reach a common conclusion at the end of the day on the core issues,” he told reporters earlier this month.

“If we get to the point at any time where I feel we can’t do that, where there are legitimate lines of investigation that are being walled off, then I will say so.”

Democrats on the intelligence panel say that there are clear points of division that could fracture the relationship, raising a scenario where Republicans refuse to subpoena certain witnesses or stonewall demands for documents the minority considers essential to the investigation.
“Considering the political pressures, the relationship [between Nunes and Schiff] is very good and very functional,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said Friday. “Inside, behind closed doors, we’re not being told no. Next week could be different.”

A second committee Democrat echoed Himes, calling the director of the FBI and some former Obama officials also invited to testify an “easy ask” while saying that the Nunes-Schiff relationship will almost certainly “be tested” over future requests.
“Taxes,” he said, referring to calls from Democrats and some Republicans for Trump to release his tax returns for congressional inquiries related to Russia. “This will not to me be a complete investigation unless we see his taxes.”

Schiff was more circumspect when asked if Trump’s taxes were necessary to the probe, telling reporters, “I think we have a lot of groundwork to do before we ever get to that question.”

Lawmakers are also eyeing former national security advisor Michael Flynn as another potential point of conflict.

Flynn was forced to resign last month after media reports revealed he had misled Vice President Pence and other senior officials about the discussion of U.S. sanctions in a December phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Nunes has defended the former intelligence officer, arguing that the U.S. surveillance that exposed the contents of his call to Kislyak is the graver concern than the call itself. But Schiff has said it is his “expectation” that Flynn will testify.

“If we can’t bring Flynn in, this investigation is going nowhere,” said the committee Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Democrats are also deeply skeptical of Nunes’ public relationship to Trump.
He served on the executive committee for Trump’s transition team and in February agreed to a White House request that he rebut a media report linking Trump associates to Moscow, which came as the committee’s investigation was already underway.
“A lot of us have had concerns with some of the chairman’s comments that he may not be looking at this in an objective fashion,” Himes said.
Nunes flatly denied any tension between himself and the vice chair on Friday, describing the relationship as “good.”

“There’s no issue,” he told reporters. “I think you guys like to write about that, but I don’t think there’s any competing issue.”

Monday’s hearing is at least initially expected to become a referendum on Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Both Nunes and Schiff have said that they have seen no evidence to substantiate the president’s allegation, with Nunes calling any literal interpretation of Trump’s tweets with the allegation early this month “wrong.”
Separate from that issue, lawmakers appear poised to take the panel in separate directions.
Democrats are expected to push for evidence of any connection between Trump campaign associates and Moscow — and demand to know whether Comey is investigating those reported links.
Republicans, meanwhile, will seek to reconstruct the original hack of the Democratic National Committee last year and ferret out the source of a series of media leaks like the one linked to Flynn.
It’s also unclear how much Comey and Rogers will be able to discuss in the open setting, leaving open the possibility that many of the answers to lawmakers’ more substantive questions will need to take place behind closed doors.
“I am concerned that this hearing will not be quite as instructive as a lot of us and a lot of Americans would want because so much of the information lives in a classified world,” Himes said.
U.S. Politics

Paul Ryan: AHCA has to do more for older Americans

VOX

House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared to bow to pressure from seniors groups on Sunday, admitting for the first time that his healthcare bill didn’t do enough for those in their 60s and would have to be revised to give them more help.

There’s been no shortage of organizations throwing their weight against Ryan’s American Health Care Act since it was released on March 6 — including Planned Parenthood advocates, Democrats in congress, and House conservatives who think it doesn’t go far enough.

But seniors groups, long considered among the most powerful interest groups on Capitol Hill, have also led the charge in denouncing AHCA. For instance, the AARP has denounced Ryancare for eating into the Medicare Trust Fund, sunsetting the Medicaid expansion, and jacking up premium rates for older Americans.

It looks like their message is getting through. Last Wednesday, Ryan announced that his beleaguered bill would need to undergo some changes and “incorporate feedback” from his members ahead of its vote on the House floor this Thursday. But it wasn’t clear until Sunday that the change would take the form of more financial assistance for seniors — rather than, say, moving the bill in an even more conservative direction, as some House Republicans have demanded.

“We do believe we need to add some additional assistance to people in those older cohorts,” Ryan told Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Sunday morning.

Ryan’s comment came after Fox News’s Wallace put up the following slide on the screen showing the explosion in the premiums for a 64 year old making $26,500:

 

While acknowledging that the bill had to change, Ryan continued to maintain that the Congressional Budget Office score made it look worse than it really was. As he has before, Ryan lamented the CBO didn’t incorporate the “three prongs” of Republicans’s healthcare overhaul — a misleading claim, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has explained.

A Ryan spokesperson said the exact form this kind of “assistance” would take hasn’t been determined, but Ryan’s remarks suggested they would involve increasing tax credits for older Americans.

Whether that will be enough to get the bill across the finish line is another question altogether. When I interviewed House Democrats on the Hill the day after AHCA was announced, they expressed confidence that they could kill Ryan’s bill if they could convince senior groups to turn against it.

“I can tell you having been up here for a while that the groups that mobilize the loudest and the hardest are the senior groups,” one House Democratic aide says. “They’re no joke.”

Jeff Stein

U.S. Politics

So far, Trump has been mercifully incompetent – (OPINION)

President Trump. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

THE WASHINGTON POST

“The world is laughing at us. They’re laughing at the stupidity of our president.” – Donald Trump  October 2016

Stupid is as stupid does.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump remarked often on the stupidity of our leaders. He was under the impression that the rest of the planet was indulging in some sort of global guffaw at our expense. “How stupid are we? The world is laughing.” If so, what must the mirthful world think of our current state of affairs? This past week alone:

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Trump’s fellow Republicans pronounced his budget dead on arrival in Congress — “draconian, careless and counterproductive” were the words used by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), former House Appropriations Committee chairman — because it recklessly cuts (slashing the State Department by nearly a third and targeting Meals on Wheels for the elderly) yet still adds to the debt Trump promised to eliminate.

Legislation to replace Obamacare stalled in Congress and had to be rewritten because of a rebellion within Trump’s own party.

A judge halted Trump’s second attempt at a ban on travel from several Muslim countries.

And Republican lawmakers probing Trump’s ties to Russia threatened subpoenas over the executive branch’s stonewalling.

In one of the presidential debates, CNBC’s John Harwood asked Trump if he was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign.” Now Trump seems to be running a cartoon version of a presidency, and he’s Elmer Fudd. His proposals could, if successfully implemented, be ruinous. But so far, at least, Trump has been mercifully incompetent.

He and the GOP-controlled Congress have been on the job two months, but he has signed only nine bills into law, none major. The only law so far this month: a bill naming the Veterans Affairs facility in Butler County, Pa. A McClatchy-Marist poll last month found that a 58 percent majority of Americans reported being “embarrassed” by Trump. For good reason:

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lasted just 24 days on the job after misrepresenting his contacts with Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions falsely testified that he’d had no contacts with the Russians, forcing his recusal from Russia investigations once the truth came out.

Trump’s nominee to be labor secretary withdrew in the face of broad opposition. His education secretary, who suggested that schools need guns to defend against grizzlies, was confirmed only when the vice president broke a tie vote.

Trump blamed a “so-called” judge for striking down his first travel ban and proposed blaming the court system if there was a terrorist attack; his own Supreme Court nominee called such remarks disheartening.

Trump conducted sensitive diplomacy over a North Korean missile launch with the Japanese prime minister surrounded by diners at his Mar-a-Lago country club, one of whom posted online a photo of the man carrying the nuclear football.

Trump, after inflating the crowd size at his inauguration and embracing a conspiracy theory that 3 million to 5 million Americans voted illegally, falsely accused the media of not covering terrorist attacks. The White House then produced a badly spelled list of attacks, most of which had been covered. Conway invented one attack, the “Bowling Green massacre.”

Conway pitched Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on Fox News. Taxpayers have subsidized millions of dollars’ worth of expenses related to Mar-a-Lago and the Trump sons’ foreign travel.

Trump marked Black History Month with remarks suggesting he thought abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive.

Trump opened a rift with Australia in an angry phone call with that ally’s prime minister. He provoked the Mexican president to cancel a trip to Washington, and he baffled the Swedes by alluding to fictitious refugee-related violence “last night in Sweden.” Britain postponed a visitfrom Trump in hopes that anti-Trump protests would cool.

Trump’s closest aides have leaked several accounts of him raging about the White House. His team is frequently caught off guard by his Twitter attacks, which have included shots at Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nordstrom and misinformation Trump heard on Fox News.

This tragicomedy adds irony when you consider that the main character is the same one who campaigned by saying “they laugh at our stupidity” and “we are led by very, very stupid people” and “I have the best words, but there’s no better word than ‘stupid.’ ”

Now the world has reason to laugh at us — because we’re with stupid.

Dana Milbank

Read more on this issue:

Catherine Rampell: Just how dumb does Donald Trump think Americans are?

Glenn Kessler: Five myths Donald Trump tells about Donald Trump

Anne Applebaum: Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

U.S. Politics

Report Confirms Fox News’ Napolitano Repeated Russian Media For His British Intelligence Conspiracy Theory

Report Confirms Fox News’ Napolitano Repeated Russian Media For His British Intelligence Conspiracy Theory

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) sits next to retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (L) as they attend a banquet marking the 10th anniversary of RT (Russia Today) television news channel in Moscow, Russia, December 10, 2015. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

THE NATIONAL MEMO

The New York Times has confirmed that Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano sourced his false allegation that former President Barack Obama asked British intelligence to spy on President Donald Trump to a discredited former CIA analyst. This analyst, Larry C. Johnson, floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT on March 6, the week after Trump’s original accusation that Obama was responsible for an illegal wiretap.

On March 13, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends that Obama circumvented the American intelligence community to ask “the British spying agency” for “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump” without “American fingerprints.” Napolitano’s claims were cited by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while defending Trump’s baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

On March 14, Media Matters uncovered the link between Napolitano’s claims and an interview Johnson gave to RT. The New York Times confirmed Media Matters’  reporting that Napolitano used Johnson as “one of the sources” for his “claim about British intelligence.” The Times also noted Johnson’s direct involvement in spreading false rumors that video existed of Michelle Obama using a racial slur against white people. From the March 17 article:

Mr. [Andrew] Napolitano’s unlikely leap into global politics can be explained by his friendship with Mr. Trump, whom he met with this year to discuss potential Supreme Court nominees. Mr. Napolitano also has a taste for conspiracy theories, which led him to Larry C. Johnson, a former intelligence officer best known for spreading a hoax about Michelle Obama.

[…]Mr. Johnson, who was himself once a Fox News contributor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Napolitano called him on Friday and requested that he speak to The New York Times. Mr. Johnson said he was one of the sources for Mr. Napolitano’s claim about British intelligence.

Mr. Johnson became infamous in political circles after he spread false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians. In the interview on Friday, Mr. Johnson acknowledged his notoriety, but said that his knowledge of surveillance of Mr. Trump came from sources in the American intelligence community. Mr. Napolitano, he said, heard about his information through an intermediary.

Via MEDIA MATTERS

U.S. Politics

Trump brings the boardroom to Washington

Trump brings the boardroom to Washington

© Getty

THE HILL

President Trump has brought the boardroom with him to the White House.

The president has taken to starting his day at the center of a rectangular wood table in the White House’s Roosevelt Room — the closest thing to his Trump Tower boardroom — and sometimes in the State Dining Room or the Cabinet Room. There, he has been meeting with a rotating cast of business leaders, political figures and activists who are hoping to bend his ear.

Since Inauguration Day, the meetings have become a mainstay of his schedule, with Trump holding more than 30 of them so far, with several per week.

Amid the growing pains for the White House, the meetings have created good optics, showing the hands-on approach to governing that Trump promised during the campaign.

But they also serve another purpose: giving Trump the kind of human interaction he craves and had grown accustomed to in his business empire.

“He feels its effective for him,” said Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter, who also worked for former president Ronald Reagan. “Every president has their style, and this is his. He’s going to do what works for him.”

Lord said the boardroom-style meetings are “his version of the brown-bag lunch.”

“He feels it’s not only good for him but it’s good for the people he’s meeting with, because they have access to him,” he said.

In his first couple of months, Trump has held meetings with an array of groups, including a “listening session” with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a breakfast with airline industry officials and a conversation with county sheriffs.

Earlier this week, the president once again opened the doors of the Roosevelt Room, this time to healthcare industry professionals to discuss the push in Congress to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Robin Armstrong, a doctor from Friendswood, Texas, who attended the healthcare session, said the meeting was a “very, very comfortable setting and a lot less regimented than I thought it would be.”

“I think this goes with the president’s style,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong, who specializes in internal medicine, said he had the opportunity to discuss how he had seen his patients’ insurance premiums and deductibles go up under ObamaCare and how “that’s unsustainable.”

He said Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price listened to what he and the other participants said and promised to help.

Other presidents, including former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, also used the Roosevelt Room and other rooms with great frequency, often to generate attention for their legislative and policy agendas.

But one of the big differences between Trump and his predecessors is that he apparently feels so at home in that conference-room-style locale, he invites the press to stay in the room for much of it, their boom microphones looming over the table. Cable news networks often break from their coverage to carry his remarks live.

In previous administrations, reporters and photographers would be quickly ushered out after a quick “photo-op,” and the conversation with the participants would continue behind closed doors.

Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University, said Trump is seeking to portray himself as the dealmaker president. The tactic, she said, is in line with past presidents.

Dwight Eisenhower, for example, emphasized his military experience and delegated tasks the way he would with subordinate officers. Herbert Hoover, who brought a business background, also sought to approach matters with that mindset.

Trump associates say he’ll continue the boardroom approach because it’s part of he was elected to do: make deals for the American people.

“Many of these groups are craving access to decisionmakers,” Lord said. “So when the president of the United States has his office call and say ‘Can you come meet with the president?’ Well, of course you’re going to go.”

Still, Jellison said she doesn’t ultimately think Trump’s showmanship in the boardroom will sway those who haven’t supported him.

“His fans will continue to be his fans,” Jellison said. “And his detractors will say, ‘You can’t lead the real world like it’s a real estate empire and a branding empire.’ ”

AMIE PARNES

U.S. Politics

Seth Meyers Destroys Trump’s Meals on Wheels Cuts: ‘Your Heart Is So Small’

NBC screencap

THE DAILY BEAST

The ‘Late Night’ host took on President Trump’s budget cuts Thursday night. And this time, it was personal.

At the end of yet another terrible week for President Donald Trump, in which his new travel ban was blocked, his health-care bill is “collapsing” and even Republicans are turning against him on the whole “wiretapping” thing, Seth Meyers once again asked his supporters, “Are you sick of winning yet? Because if you are, you’d better get to the doctor before Trump takes away your health care.”

In response to the president’s claim that he has done more in his first 50 days than any other president, Meyers said, “Trump has done more in office the way a toddler helps out in the kitchen. He may be trying, but by the time he leaves there’s snot on the fridge and a shoe in the dishwasher.”

But nothing seemed to enrage the Late Night host more Thursday night than Trump’s new budget, which seeks massive cuts in numerous federal programs, including the EPA, the National Endowment for the Arts, and even Meals on Wheels.

While cuts to those first two programs were expected from Trump, Meyers made it clear he thought the third was beyond the pale.

“Meals on Wheels?!” the host asked, incredulously. “How dead inside do you have to be to not want old people to get food? Your heart is so small it makes your tiny hands look like catcher’s mitts.”

“Old people voted for you!” he continued. “Your key demographics were old people and older people. They believed you when you said you cared about them. There’s nothing more low-life than lying to the elderly. You should know that. You’re 70.”

While Meyers did not discuss his own connection to Meals on Wheels during his broadcast, he did reveal on Twitter that his mother is a volunteer for the program, writing, “My mom, who is also my hero, is a Meals on Wheels volunteer so I had some thoughts in tonight’s A CLOSER LOOK.”

Matt Wilstein