Conservatives introduce measure demanding Mueller’s resignation

Politico reports: Three House Republicans on Friday moved to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to resign over what they contend are “obvious conflicts of interest,” the latest instance of rising GOP resistance to his Russia probe.

Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), introduced a measure that, while nonbinding, would put the House on record describing Mueller, a former FBI director, as unfit to lead the probe because of his relationship with James Comey, his successor at the bureau.

“[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How the 25th Amendment actually works — and what nobody’s ever figured out

Chris Geidner reports: Before he agreed to become White House chief of staff in 1987, Howard Baker Jr. had a request for a longtime aide of his. Baker, a retired senator, asked James Cannon to assess the state of affairs inside the White House.

The presidency of Ronald Reagan was in “chaos,” Cannon wrote to Baker. Aides told him that Reagan was “inattentive and inept.”

Cannon’s first recommendation, as reported in a 1988 book and confirmed by Cannon himself soon after, was shocking.

“Consider the possibility that section four of the 25th Amendment might be applied,” wrote the aide, who had worked previously as a senior policy adviser to President Gerald Ford.

The 25th Amendment was added to the US Constitution in 1967. Compared to some amendments, it might seem a little obvious or procedural, but the 25th Amendment was the long-belated response to more than a century of crises, and some of America’s darkest and most chaotic moments, dealing with one simple question: What do we do if something is wrong with the president? The amendment has four parts. The first two codify what happens if the president or vice president die or otherwise leave office (the vice president becomes president, and the president can nominate a new vice president, respectively). The third outlines how the president can temporarily hand over power to the vice president.

The fourth section — never used in the 50 years since it was adopted — gives the vice president and cabinet the power to declare that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It is heavily weighted in favor of the president’s ability to serve, enabling the president to force a congressional vote on the issue — a vote that would take two-thirds of both houses of Congress to keep the president out of power. In short, it’s a complicated and rigorous process that would require many elected and appointed officials to agree the president was unfit. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

House drops motherlode of Russian propaganda

The Daily Beast reports: The ad was highly specific—and specifically Russian.
It was for a Facebook group called Defend The 2nd. Above an image showing a cornucopia of bullets, it billed itself as “The community of 2nd Amendment supporters, guns lovers & patriots.” That was how it appeared to the public—the American public—but Facebook internally held data that told a different story.

Ad targeting information associated with Defend The 2nd showed how highly targeted it was. The location for viewership had to be within the United States. They had to be between the ages of 18 to over 65. They had to match Facebook users with interests including the National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Sisters, Gun Owners of America, Concealed carry in the United States, and Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The ad did not come from people for whom the Second Amendment applies. Payment, through the online payment service Qiwi, came in the form of 48,305.55 Rubles, or roughly $829. For that, Russia garnered over 301,000 “impressions” from Americans, with no questions asked by Facebook.

That ad was one of dozens of inflammatory Facebook and Twitter ads from Kremlin-backed fake social media accounts, including several The Daily Beast has already identified, with names like “Being Patriotic,” “Secured Borders,” and “United Muslims of America.” They were released on Wednesday, along with accompanying metadata showing their Russian provenance, not by the companies themselves, but by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Steve Bannon thinks Trump’s legal team is ‘asleep at the wheel’ – and he’s looking for ways to kneecap Mueller

The Daily Beast reports: Robert Mueller is finally bringing down the hammer, and Steve Bannon is nervous.

The former White House chief strategist is increasingly concerned that President Donald Trump’s legal team is falling down on the job. And he’s worried that they’ve left the president vulnerable as former campaign aides are being handed indictments.

“In terms of Steve’s thinking of how the president is handling this, yeah, he thinks the legal team was not prepared for what happened today—they’re not serving the president well,” a source close to Bannon said.

Added another confidant: Bannon believes Ty Cobb and John Dowd, the top two attorneys on the president’s legal team, “are asleep at the wheel.”

Cobb and Dowd have publicly feuded over White House legal strategy after joining the president’s team, arguing in particular over the degree to which that team should cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. They’ve been overheard doing so at a steakhouse in D.C., while Cobb has been fooled by an email prankster and has angrily lashed out at reporters.

Dowd and Cobb did not respond to a request for comment on Bannon’s complaints.

Worried about these missteps, Bannon has increasingly contemplated taking matters into his own hand—all in an attempt, he believes, to spare Trump from having to fire the man investigating his campaign and family’s finances.

Multiple sources close to Bannon told The Daily Beast on Monday that he is “advocating a much more aggressive legal approach short of firing Mueller,” as one source put it, and has been mulling options that would effectively curtail the special counsel’s investigation into 2016 Russian election-meddling and alleged Trump campaign connections to it.

He’s being tight-lipped about the strategy so far—and it is unclear how robust an effort he’ll actually try to mount—but options are available to him. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Republicans need to say, before the fact, what they will do if Trump fires Mueller

Jennifer Rubin writes: President Trump and his surrogates — most especially the Fox News lineup (which includes a fleet of conservative pundits who disgrace themselves by facilitating a political distraction game for Trump), obsequious Republicans in Congress, old allies such as Roger Stone (who wound up getting banned by Twitter) and the talk radio crowd — have been frantically fanning Hillary Clinton non-scandals about Uranium One (it was baseless before and baseless now) and the dossier’s funder. (Fusion GPS initially was hired by the conservative Free Beacon, which at one time claimed not to know the identity of the Republican outfit that first hired Fusion.) The unhinged rants from Trump’s defenders demanding Clinton be locked up for one or both of these reveal how tightly Trump and the right-wing ecosystem that supports him rely on Clinton as an all-purpose distraction.

Upon a moment’s reflection, the non-scandals make no sense (Clinton was colluding with Russia to beat herself in the election?), have been debunked before and in no way affect the liability, if any, of current or ex-Trump administration figures. This is “whataboutism” run amok. It does expose the degree to which Fox News has given up the pretense of a real news organization, preferring the role of state propagandist. (And it’s not just the evening hosts; the non-scandals now monopolize the rest of the schedule.)

The intensity of Trump’s frenzy underscores the peril in which the president now finds himself. Beyond the indictments unsealed this morning, Trump does not know what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has uncovered; which witnesses are flippable; what financial documents have revealed about the Trump business empire; and whether, for example, Mueller finds support for an obstruction of justice charge from Trump’s own public dissembling (e.g., hinting at non-existent tapes of former FBI director James B. Comey). For someone who insists on holding all the cards and intimidating others, Trump finds himself in a uniquely powerless position.

As I have argued, Republicans should be saying publicly that efforts to fire Mueller and/or pardon indicted figures will commence impeachment proceedings. Those moves would set off a constitutional crisis in which the president is using his powers to protect himself from the Justice Department. Even former senator Rick Santorum concedes that it would be “very perilous” for Trump to fire Mueller.

Right now that is a theoretical question, but given how rattled Trump seems to be we shouldn’t rule out the possibility. It is incumbent on media interviewers to ask Republicans if that is their position and if not to justify giving a green light to what would be an unprecedented scheme to protect himself from investigation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Facebook struggles to contain Russia narrative

Politico reports: Facebook has been happy to keep congressional investigators focused on the Russian-bought online ads that helped sway voters in last year’s election — despite the many other ways that fake messages and bogus accounts spread on the dark side of social media.

But that may be about to end: Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week at which lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month.

Some lawmakers are already pressing for more details about so-called organic content, including unpaid posts from thousands of fake, automated and hijacked user accounts. Those questions could require Facebook to divulge more details about the priceless proprietary algorithms it uses to decide what messages its users see. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Will Congress ever limit the forever-expanding 9/11 war?

The New York Times reports: A Navy SEAL, killed alongside civilians in a January raid on a village in Yemen. Another SEAL, killed while accompanying Somali forces on a May raid. And now four Army soldiers, dead in an ambush this month in Niger.

These American combat deaths — along with those of about 10 service members killed this year in Afghanistan and Iraq — underscore how a law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has been stretched to permit open-ended warfare against Islamist militant groups scattered across the Muslim world.

The law, commonly called the A.U.M.F., on its face provided congressional authorization to use military force only against nations, groups or individuals responsible for the attacks. But while the specific enemy lawmakers were thinking about in September 2001 was the original Al Qaeda and its Taliban host in Afghanistan, three presidents of both parties have since invoked the 9/11 war authority to justify battle against Islamist militants in many other places.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as lawmakers renew a debate over whether they should update and replace that law, revitalizing Congress’s constitutionally assigned role of making fundamental decisions about going to war.

But even as the Trump administration moves to ease some Obama-era constraints on counterterrorism operations, political obstacles to reaching a consensus on new parameters for a war authorization law look more daunting than ever. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump administration three weeks late on Russia sanctions. But it’s killed the office that coordinates them

Foreign Policy reports: The State Department shuttered an office that oversees sanctions policy, even as the Donald Trump administration faces criticism from lawmakers over its handling of new economic penalties against Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson eliminated the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy office, which had been led by a veteran ambassador-rank diplomat with at least five staff, as part of an overhaul of the department, former diplomats and congressional sources told Foreign Policy.

Instead, the role of coordinating U.S. sanctions across the State Department and other government agencies now falls to just one mid-level official — David Tessler, the deputy director of the Policy Planning Office. The Policy Planning Office, which previously operated as a small team providing strategic advice to the secretary but did not manage programs or initiatives, has grown in power under Tillerson’s “redesign” of the department. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse the federal government of leaving people to die

Vox reports: The nation’s largest nurses union condemned the federal government’s emergency response in Puerto Rico on Thursday for “delaying necessary humanitarian aide to its own citizens and leaving them to die.”

The stinging criticism came from members of the nonprofit National Nurses United, speaking on Capitol Hill with Democratic members of Congress after a two-week humanitarian mission to Puerto Rico. About 50 volunteer nurses visited two dozen towns in urban and rural areas, and described the desperation of Puerto Ricans — even five weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island — as worse than anything they had witnessed on other humanitarian missions, including the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans and the earthquake in Haiti.

The official death toll from the storm so far is 51, though Vox’s own reporting suggests the actual number of deaths could be in the hundreds.

The nurses described doctors performing surgery in hospitals with light from their cellphones, children screaming from hunger, elderly residents suffering from severe dehydration, and black mold spreading throughout entire communities. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

FBI is set to give Congress documents related to Russia dossier, Ryan says

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is expected to hand over to Congress documents related to a controversial and unverified dossier on President Donald Trump by next week, ending a long-running impasse between lawmakers and federal law enforcement.

Speaking to reporters, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that the FBI had agreed to provide documents long-sought by Congress in a variety of investigations under way, including information about a 35-page research document containing unverified allegations about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.

“The point of these investigations is to find the truth and to make sure if laws were violated or mistakes were made, they’re not made again. And transparency is what gets you that,” Mr. Ryan said.

“The FBI got in touch with us yesterday afternoon. They have informed us that they will comply with our document requests and they will provide the documents that Congress has been asking for by next week. And we expect the FBI to honor that commitment,” Mr. Ryan said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Breakdown in North Korea talks sounds alarms on Capitol Hill

NBC News reports: Diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea are in peril with Pyongyang shunning talks in response to President Donald Trump’s increased public attacks on Kim Jong Un, according to multiple U.S. government and congressional officials.

Joseph Yun, a top American diplomat to North Korea, has been warning of the breakdown in meetings on Capitol Hill and seeking help to persuade the administration to prioritize diplomacy over the heated rhetoric that appears to be pushing the two nuclear powers closer toward conflict, sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

The warnings from Yun and Congressional officials come as the president prepares for his first official trip to Asia next month and as tensions between the two nations are near an all-time high. Officials throughout government worry that a lack of diplomacy increases the risks of military action in the region.

They also explain some of the alarmist comments that have been made by Republican and Democratic Senators in recent weeks, most notable Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Bob Corker who has said repeatedly that the president is undercutting diplomatic efforts. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump administration is delaying Russia sanctions that Congress demanded

Vox reports: President Donald Trump’s administration missed its deadline to implement sanctions on Russia — and Republicans in Congress are starting to worry about why.

“I’m going to get on the phone with someone,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who played a key role negotiating the sanctions bill as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday. The bill was a direct punishment for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The law, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and which Trump signed into law in early August, required the administration to identify which Russian entities would be penalized with new sanctions by October 1. They still have not done so. The State Department has said it is “working to complete the process and provide the public guidance to the relevant people just as soon as possible.”

Republicans have stopped short of claiming that the administration’s delays have been strategic. “We’re going to check into it,” Corker said. “I don’t have any way of evaluating whether it’s purposeful or not purposeful.”

But it’s no secret that Trump, who has emphasized wanting a warmer relationship with Russia, did not want to sign the bill into law — and did so grudgingly. At the time, he released a statement claiming he is much better at dealmaking than Congress is and angrily tweeted that Republican lawmakers were ruining his relationship with Russia. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Key Russia probe splinters as Grassley, Feinstein set own paths

Bloomberg reports: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Russia probe has fractured, with Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein saying they’re each going to set their own path on the investigation.

The two senators spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday, where they agreed to pursue different issues without giving up on the original probe — into the reasons President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and Russian attempts to interfere in the election.

Feinstein of California said she doesn’t understand a push by Republicans to once again investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails or pursue a 2010 Obama-era deal by a Russian-backed company to purchase American uranium mines.

“We have kind of agreed that each side is going to do its own thing,” she said. “I think they want to do some things that we don’t want to do. And that is go into the emails, and go into the uranium thing.”

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Wednesday that the chairman will continue his broad focus on multiple administrations, “even if the ranking member is only willing to focus on President Trump and unwilling to examine the role of the DNC and Clinton campaign,” referring to the Democratic National Committee.

Their remarks signal a significant rupture to what has been a bipartisan probe, which kicked off in June with some fanfare. At the time, Grassley’s move appeared to indicate new trouble for Trump, with the independent-minded chairman potentially opening up new — and more public — lines of inquiry into his campaign and his administration. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy’

 

Full transcript: Jeff Flake’s speech from the Senate floor.

Politico reports: Just hours after publicly trading insults with a key GOP senator, President Donald Trump kept to the script and held a “productive,” hour-long meeting with Senate Republicans, according to several senators.

Trump outlined at length his accomplishments since taking office, and then asked for Senate Republicans to help him push through a major tax-reform package. The assembled GOP senators responded to Trump’s appearance with three standing ovations.

While the “feel good” moment only papered over serious divisions in the party — both personal and policy — Senate Republicans were hopeful that it signaled a chance to cooperate with Trump on taxes, which many rank-and-file lawmakers consider critical to keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill.

Yet soon after the meeting ended, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) made a stunning announcement that he would not run for reelection, quickly diverting attention from what had been a hopeful moment for Trump and Senate Republicans. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Once a ‘jackass’ and ‘idiot,’ Trump and Graham now pals

Politico reports: Once upon a time, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a “jackass.” Never to be outdone in the put-down department, Trump labeled the South Carolina senator a “lightweight” and an “idiot” who “seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry.”

Two years after that campaign smackdown, Trump and Graham act like longtime friends, hitting the links and plotting legislative strategy together. The two have formed a surprising kinship even as Graham’s best friend, John McCain, is chilly toward a president who once mocked his capture in Vietnam.

In a sign of the dramatic turn in their relationship, during a flight back from South Carolina last week, the president turned to the South Carolina senator and asked if he’d like to take a helicopter back to the White House with him, offering Graham a guided tour.

“How can you not like that?” Graham said in a lengthy interview. “I mean I grew up in the back of a liquor store, first in my family to go to college. I never thought I’d be on Marine One with the president.”

Graham is transforming himself from one of Trump’s fiercest critics to his chief congressional translator, talking to the president sometimes multiple times in a day. He insists Trump is “growing into the job” and becoming more somber, a far different figure than who Graham once railed against as a long-shot presidential candidate. A White House official said that Graham’s alliance with Trump “is one of the best we have on the Hill.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Senators stunned to discover U.S. has 1,000 troops in Niger

The Daily Beast reports: The death of four U.S. Special Operations Forces troops in Niger has generated a raucous conversation about how presidents should comfort bereft Gold Star families.

But, quietly, it’s fueling a more difficult debate than whether a phone call or a letter suffices in the aftermath of tragedy; mainly, why were U.S. troops in the country in the first place, and does Congress need to exert more authority when it comes such deployments?

Many lawmakers assiduously duck these questions. But on the Sunday shows, several were forced to address them in the aftermath of four soldiers dying under still-mysterious circumstances near the small town of Tongo Tongo. In the process, two powerful Senators tacitly admitted that they hadn’t even known the extent of U.S. involvement in Niger in the first place.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the chamber’s most hawkish members, told host Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he didn’t know until recently that a thousand U.S. troops are stationed in Niger. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

McCain hits Trump where it hurts, attacking ‘bone spur’ deferments in Vietnam

 

The Washington Post reports: After a week in which President Trump endured not-so-veiled criticisms from his two predecessors as president and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), McCain delivered another broadside that seems clearly aimed at Trump — in the most personal terms yet.

McCain, whose status as a war hero Trump publicly and controversially doubted as a 2016 presidential candidate, appeared to retaliate in kind against the president in a C-SPAN interview about the Vietnam War airing Sunday night. In the interview, McCain pointed to wealthy Americans who were able to get out of being drafted into service in the conflict in which he spent years as a prisoner of war. And he pointed to a very specific type of deferment which Trump just happened to use.

“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain said. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail