Trump administration dismantles LGBT-friendly policies

The nation’s health department is taking steps to dismantle LGBT health initiatives, as political appointees have halted or rolled back regulations intended to protect LGBT workers and patients, removed LGBT-friendly language from documents and reassigned the senior adviser dedicated to LGBT health.

The sharp reversal from Obama-era policies carries implications for a population that’s been historically vulnerable to discrimination in health care settings, say LGBT health advocates. A Health Affairs study last year found that many LGBT individuals have less access to care than heterosexuals; in a Harvard-Robert Wood Johnson-NPR survey one in six LGBT individuals reported experiencing discrimination from doctors or at a clinic.

The Trump administration soon after taking office also moved to change the agency’s LGBT-related health data collection, a window into health status and discrimination. Last month it established a new religious liberty division to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.

The changes at the Department of Health and Human Services represent “rapid destruction of so much of the progress on LGBT health,” said Kellan Baker, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who worked with HHS on LGBT issues for nearly a decade. “It’s only a matter of time before all the gains made under the Obama administration are reversed under the Trump administration, for purposes that have nothing to do with public health and have everything to do with politics.”

The policy reversals also come after President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged during his campaign that he would support LGBT causes. “Thank you to the LGBT community!” Trump tweeted in June 2016. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

The Trump administration defended its approach to LGBT health as part of its broader health care strategy.

“The policies of the Trump administration are intended to improve the lives of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “Through actions aimed at making health care more affordable, rolling back burdensome regulations, and combating the opioid crisis, the administration is working to ensure a healthier America.”

The new leader of HHS — Alex Azar, who was sworn in as secretary last month — is thought to be more pragmatic than his predecessor Tom Price. Azar previously led U.S. operations for Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that has been hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, among others, for its pro-LGBT policies. Lilly opposed Indiana’s religious liberty law, advanced by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that LGBT groups said was discriminatory.

However, staff inside the health department have raised concerns about several other Trump appointees now in senior roles who had a history of anti-LGBT comments before joining the agency, Among them is Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation official who has said that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on same-sex marriage was “wrong” and repeatedly warned of its consequences.

“[S]ame-sex marriage was merely the start, not end, of the left’s LGBT agenda,” Severino wrote in May 2016, about 10 months before he was tapped by Trump to be the health department’s top civil rights official. “The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.”

Asked in an interview this month if he stood by those comments, Severino pointed out that since joining the health department he had reached out to LGBT advocates. He also said his responsibility as civil rights chief is to uphold constitutional protections for all Americans.

“Statements I’ve made in the past are not binding on what I do in my role as a public servant,” Severino said. “What I’m guided by, and what I’m required to follow, is the law… I’m dedicated to treating everybody fairly and in accordance with the law.”

HHS officials also pointed to a listening session that Severino convened in April 2017 with more than a dozen LGBT advocates as well as several follow-up conversations with medical experts. “The outreach has been significant,” an agency spokesperson said.

But nearly all of those LGBT advocates said they’ve essentially been ignored since sitting down with Severino nearly a year ago.

“There’s been no communication since then through all the channels that he and his staff know how to reach us,” said Mara Youdelman of the National Health Law Program, who attended last year’s listening session and submitted subsequent requests for information that haven’t been returned. “It was a one-shot deal — and all of their actions speak much louder than words and one listening session.”

New direction under Trump

Though Barack Obama as a candidate for president opposed same-sex marriage, his administration immediately took steps to advance LGBT health issues, like loosening the rules on hospital visitation rights after some same-sex couples had been barred from seeing each other.

“[A]ll across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides… [and] uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans,” Obama wrote in a 2010 memorandum, instructing HHS to expand visitation rights, a policy that still stands.

The Obama administration in 2016 also finalized a regulation, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, that banned discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation and extended those protections to transgender individuals for the first time.

While some conservative groups said that the Obama administration moved too quickly on LGBT health priorities, its leaders argue their efforts were necessary, even overdue. The purpose of the agency is to serve all Americans, not just straight people. Our job was helping everyone,” said Kathy Greenlee, who was appointed as an assistant HHS secretary in 2009 and is openly lesbian. “There was pent-up support for these issues.”

But upon taking office last year, the Trump administration swiftly froze a series of LGBT-friendly rules, including proposed new regulations to further ban discrimination in Medicare and Medicaid. A regulation that would have allowed transgender HHS staff more protections when using the department’s bathrooms and other facilities also was ignored.

“It was signed and technically finished on Jan. 19, 2017, but not posted online,” said one staffer. “And the new administration considered it unpublished and pulled it back.”

The Trump administration also reinterpreted the ACA’s Section 1557 anti-discrimination mandate, with the White House declining to fight a court battle to enforce it and signaling that it would roll back the rule. The health agency’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which POLITICO first reported last month, is expected to offer greater protections for health care workers who do not wish to treat LGBT patients.

Meanwhile, the agency’s senior adviser for LGBT health — a lawyer named Elliot Kennedy — was reassigned from the HHS secretary’s office to an HHS office in Rockville, Md., to work on disease prevention. Kennedy’s previous portfolio, including leading a committee to review and advance LGBT policy issues across HHS, also has lost influence, after openly LGBT leaders left the agency and current LGBT staffers say they’ve been dissuaded from attending. The committee’s annual report has not been publicly posted since 2016.

“Elliot Kennedy currently serves in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as liaison for Healthy People 2020’s LGBT Health Topic and Objectives,” an HHS spokesperson said, in response to questions about the reassignment. “He continues to serve on the HHS LGBT Policy Coordinating Committee.”

Another quiet battle has been over a pair of HHS surveys, with the Trump administration moving to strike questions about sexual orientation that had been added by the Obama administration in order to understand health disparities and LGBT specific health issues. The two surveys are used to shape policy for older and disabled Americans, respectively. The Trump administration subsequently reinstated some of the questions after an outcry.

“A lot of people think data are really boring. But data are fundamental, especially to public health,” said Baker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. “The only way to have the evidence you need to prioritize and spend wisely to address disparities is to have data about those disparities.”

A listening session followed by silence

The Trump administration says that it’s worked hard to engage LGBT health advocates, pointing to the listening session convened by Severino in April 2017 and attended by 17 representatives from groups that specifically deal with LGBT health.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to the LGBT community to hear people’s concerns to be open, to listen and to learn,” Severino said. “And we will continue to do that because it’s important. I see my role as serving everybody.”

But all of the LGBT advocacy organizations represented at the April 2017 listening session said that they had concerns about HHS’ approach to LGBT health. Nearly every attendee said they hadn’t had meaningful interactions with Severino or the civil rights division in 10 months and they were underwhelmed by last year’s meeting.

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening,” said Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the attendees. “For a listening session to actually be successful, we would’ve had to see actual, meaningful engagement. And we’ve seen nothing but disappointing and harmful policies come out of HHS and [the civil rights office] since the meeting.”

“A number of us struggled with whether we would participate in something that would be used for exactly this purpose … a charade to be used by folks to suggest they are open-minded,” added Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, who also attended. “That was the lost cause that we suspected that it was.”

The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal were among more than a dozen advocacy organizations that sent follow-up letters to Severino in April 2017 and July 2017 that warned HHS to halt rolling back LGBT protections and better engage the patient community. The advocates say they were ignored.

Only one attendee of last year’s listening session who responded to POLITICO — Ezra Young, a lawyer who has since left the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now in private practice — said that he’s been reassured by Severino and HHS’ actions.

“I’m trying to be fair to them. There was a lot of fear based on what Roger wrote in the past,” said Young, a transgender, Latino man. “I don’t know at this point if all that fear is rational based on what has and hasn’t been done.” Young added that he’s been in dialogue with Severino, saying that the two men discussed lunch plans as recently as December.

However, Young’s former employer holds a different view. “This administration continues taking actions that harm our community, which already faces immense bias,” the organization said in a statement to POLITICO.

Christian conservatives hail HHS

Since Trump took office, multiple agencies have pursued policy reversals related to LGBT priorities. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department suggested that federal law doesn’t ban sex discrimination in the workplace for transgender employees, a turnaround from the Obama administration. The Department of Education this month said that it would no longer investigate transgender students’ complaints about access to bathrooms.

But Christian conservatives are noticing, and specifically praising, the reversals at the health department. “Few departments have [historically] given Christians more grief than HHS,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote last month. But “from about-faces on radical sex ed to abortion policy, the White House is turning the Health and Human Services into a virtual promise-keeping factory.”

The Trump administration also has put its mark on the language it has — and hasn’t — included in formal HHS documents.

One recent flashpoint was the department’s four-year strategic plan, a document that’s required by federal law, prepared by career staff and used as an agency roadmap. The latest draft plan, which was released in October, did not make a single reference to LGBT health issues — a notable break from the two previous strategic plans, dating back to 2010. The agency removed the draft plan, which also contained strong anti-abortion language, from its web site late last year.

However, the plan originally contained references to LGBT health, two HHS staffers told POLITICO, until political appointees ordered that the language be stripped from the document. The effort was spearheaded by Shannon Royce, the agency’s liaison with religious groups, who staff say also took steps to include other language favorable to Christian conservatives.

“In our strategic plan, we actually affirmed life from conception to natural death,” Royce said, touting the new language at the Evangelicals for Life conference last month.

HHS did not respond to a question about why references to LGBT health were removed.

Past comments cited by LGBT staff

Beyond policy, staff say there have been clear signals about the personnel chosen to steer the department. For instance, the Obama administration tapped multiple LGBT officials for senior roles, including Richard Sorian to run the agency’s public affairs.

In contrast, the current public affairs chief is Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion leader who for years advocated against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. For instance, Yoest a decade ago said that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and that transgender individuals suffered from mental disorders; she declined to comment on whether she still holds those positions now. (POLITICO first reported on Friday that Yoest will soon be leaving HHS.) Royce, the head of the faith-based office, previously worked as a senior leader for organizations that fought same-sex marriage and promoted “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice to change the sexual orientation of LGBT individuals.

Several other top officials also criticized LGBT priorities just months before joining the administration. “Vote LGBT if you want to be forced to have your baby delivered at an abortion clinic by an abortionist,” Matthew Bowman tweeted in April 2016, about nine months before being tapped by Trump to join the health department, where he is currently deputy general counsel. After the Obama administration in June 2016 expanded protections for transgender military members, Severino wrote that the “decision has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with politics and a gender ideology run amok.”

HHS did not respond to specific questions about Yoest, Bowman, Severino and Royce’s past public comments, and made only Severino available for comment. But a spokesperson said that LGBT staff should not be concerned.

“All the HHS staff you refer to in your story have sworn to uphold the law and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect because of their inherent human dignity,” HHS spokesperson Matt Lloyd said in a statement. “The belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is a mainstream view held by millions of Americans, a belief the Supreme Court has said is based on ‘decent and honorable premises.'”

Severino, the son of Colombian immigrants, added that he’s spent his life working to combat bigotry after experiencing it growing up in California.

“I faced actual discrimination and mistreatment,” Severino said, who said he heard slurs while learning to swim at a public pool and was wrongly steered to remedial classes in high school. “Those sort of inflection points drives me and my passion for civil rights,” he added, pointing to his education at Harvard Law School and subsequent work in the Department of Justice, where he served as an attorney for seven years under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Career staff say that, regardless of what agency leaders believe or maintain now, their past comments on LGBT priorities have been widely passed around the 80,000-person department. “I photocopied them and left them in the cafeteria,” said one staffer. “It’s important for people to know these are the leaders they work for.”

It’s also fostered a climate where six staffers who are LGBT described removing their wedding rings before coming to work in the morning, taking down photos of their partners and families or ultimately finding new jobs further away from certain political appointees. They did not want to be identified; two said they feared being reassigned for being gay.

“When you have to hide a major part of who you are … it’s really debilitating,” said one staffer. “I wish I had more courage to be out with these people.”

Some LGBT staffers told POLITICO they hesitated to raise their concerns while the agency was run by then-Secretary Tom Price, who as a congressman voted against LGBT priorities and as secretary was backed by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group that holds an official position that “homosexual conduct is harmful.”

Long-serving staff who worked with new HHS Secretary Azar, when he served as a senior agency leader in the George W. Bush administration, or observed his work in the private sector say they’re hoping he’ll take a different approach. Under Azar’s watch, Eli Lilly was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign as a company committed to inclusion and LGBT protections. The Indiana-based company also opposed a state law that critics feared could be discriminatory against LGBT people.

“Alex always struck me as a very pragmatic person. Not an ideologue. Very business-like. Very smart,” said one LGBT staffer. “I’m hoping he’ll put some brakes on the ideological stuff.”

Staff also suggested that HHS has bigger priorities than rolling back LGBT health gains. “To the vast majority of Americans, this isn’t that big a deal anymore,” said an employee. “It’s perplexing why they spend so much time on it.”

[Politico]

 

 

Trump lashes out at Oprah on Twitter, calling her ‘insecure’

After an early morning tweetstorm Sunday, President Trump took to Twitter again later that night, this time lashing out at whom some hope will be a 2020 rival: Oprah Winfrey.

“Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!” the president tweeted.

Trump was referring to Winfrey’s interview with “60 Minutes,” where the former talk show host again said she has no desire to run for president, despite encouragement from wealthy donors after her stirring Golden Globes speech last month.

“I am actually humbled by the fact that people think that I could be a leader of the free world, but it’s just not in my spirit. It’s not in my DNA,” she told correspondent Ann Silvio.

Trump’s tweet followed a familiar pattern: He asserts to have once known a rival or critic “very well,” but once he sees them as an enemy, he threatens to expose them, like he did with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

Trump and Winfrey are familiar with each other, as the president said in his tweet. Whether they know each other “very well,” as he claims, is more subjective. Winfrey interviewed Trump on her show shortly after he had taken out a full-page ad during the 1988 presidential race in which he criticized U.S. foreign policy.

When Winfrey asked Trump in that interview whether he would ever pivot from real estate to politics, he said he would “never want to rule it out totally, because I really am tired of seeing what’s happening with this country, how we’re really making other people live like kings and we’re not.”

Twenty years after that interview, many Americans are hoping Winfrey feels the same and decides to run. Days after Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech, a Quinnipiac poll showed she would get 52 percent of the vote if she ran against Trump.

But for now, Winfrey is using her platform to ask Americans how they feel about Trump’s comments and policies, which is what it appears the president took issue with Sunday.

While moderating a panel of voters during the “60 Minutes” segment, Winfrey asked how they felt about Trump’s recent comments referring to immigrants from “s—hole countries” such as Haiti and African nations.

After one Trump supporter defended the president’s comments, Winfrey pushed back.

“Come on, Matt. If you’re talking about … Matt, if you’re talking about the country, you’re talking about the people in the country. When he’s talking about Norway or Norwegians, he’s talking about Norwegians,” she said.

She went on to ask questions about Trump’s fitness for office, his temperament and the sexual misconduct allegations he faces.

Those questions are what appear to have set Trump off, triggering his tweet calling the fellow billionaire “insecure ” — something that people across the political spectrum found ironic, given his recent insistence that he is a “very stable genius” and “like, really smart.”

Trump‘s approval ratings among Americans are inching upward but remain low, particularly among those who are attracted to the idea of a Winfrey presidency.

But perhaps Winfrey’s greatest threat to Trump is not a potential presidential bid but rather her interviews with these focus groups — where Trump’s supporters are confronted with the president’s words and actions in front of people outside their bubble.

While Trump has been criticized as a highly divisive leader, Winfrey is known for her broad appeal across gender, racial and even political lines. During the president’s inauguration speech, he pledged to be a unifier. But Winfrey’s focus group reminded viewers that some Americans see him as anything but — and that likely concerns Trump.

[Washington Post]

Trump blames Florida school shooting on Russia investigation

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the FBI hit a new low on Saturday evening, when the president suggested in a tweet that the bureau had failed to prevent Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school because of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. While it’s true that the FBI had been alerted about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, there’s absolutely no evidence that the bureau missed anything because of its investigation into the Trump team’s possible collusion with Russia.

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable,” Trump wrote. “They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

The FBI acknowledged on Friday that a person close to Cruz contacted their tip line on January 5, a month before the shooting, to provide information about his gun ownership, desire to kill people, and his disturbing behavior. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement that he is investigating what happened. The GOP, however, isn’t happy. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to Wray asking the bureau brief their committees on why the FBI didn’t act on the tip, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also asked the agency to brief his staffers. Florida Gov. Rick Scott this week went so far as to call for Wray’s resignation over the matter. “We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act,” Scott said.

On Saturday, At a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Emma Gonzalez, a student who survived the shooting, delivered an impassioned speech and addressed the president directly. (Beyond blaming the FBI, Trump on Thursday tweeted that neighbors and classmates knew Cruz “was a big problem” and should have reported him to authorities — which they did.) “How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault?” she asked. “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”

[Vox]

Reality

Before the start of his big Russia tweetstorm, President Trump reportedly dined with Geraldo Rivera.

The reality is, the FBI employs 35,000 people, only as small handful, about 36 people, are working on the Russia investigation

Trump Shares Another Anti-CNN Meme: ‘Big Ratings Loser’

Last year the President RT’d someone who shared a meme of CNN getting hit by a train before deleting it. And then there was the meme he RT’d of himself with a CNN-labeled blood spot on the sole of his shoe.

And then, of course, there was the infamous Trump-wrestling-CNN clip that is actually still up:

[Mediaite]

Trump blames Obama, lashes out at Schiff and Democrats, but spares Russia criticism in weekend tweet storm

President Donald Trump has lashed out at his critics, political rivals, American institutions and even his own national security advisor in a weekend tirade about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Yet the president spared Russia itself from his harshest criticism.

Trump zeroed in on his predecessor in the Oval Office, Barack Obama, for not doing enough to stop Russian operations intended to sow chaos in the American political system.

“Obama was President, knew of the threat, and did nothing,” Trump posted Sunday morning on Twitter.

Trump was referring to comments from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own probe into Russia’s election-interference efforts.

Schiff, an outspoken critic of Trump, said Friday that the Obama administration shared some responsibility in the Russia controversy, because it should have been more aggressive and revealed the operation to the public.

“We should have called them out much earlier,” Schiff said Friday morning. “While I respect the motive in terms of the Obama administration, they didn’t want to be seen as meddling, the American people had a right to know what was going on and could be trusted to do the right thing with it. And they should have defended being more public and aggressive at the time, at least in my view.”

Schiff made his comments ahead of several federal indictments of Russian nationals and entities by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The indictments revealed Friday did not include any allegation that Russia efforts actually had any effect on the outcome of the election, but it did not conclude otherwise, either. The charges allege that the Russians waged “information warfare” on the U.S. political system to aid Trump’s campaign.

The latest developments in the case compelled Trump to acknowledge that Russia had interfered. Previously, he described the Russia plot as a “hoax” and the investigation into it a “witch hunt.” In his Sunday tweet storm, he stated that he always meant that the “Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

[CNBC]

Reality

It is very easy to look backwards and say we could have done better, especially knowing now the scope of the election interference and we also didn’t know then. But we did know enough, enough that Obama wanted to release a bipartisan statement to the public alerting them of Russian involvement, but Mitch McConnell flatly refused to cooperate.

We also know that when Jeh Johnson, Obama’s secretary of homeland security, contacted people in charge of elections in various states whose election data had been possibly compromised, the Republicans in those states blew him off.

And as Joe Biden pointed out, “Can you imagine if the president of the United States called a press conference in October with this fella, and Stephen Bannon and company, and said ‘tell you what, the Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and we have to do something about it.’”

Trump calls for DOJ to investigate Obama over Iran

President Donald Trump was up early Sunday morning, tweeting that he can’t understand why former President Barack Obama was not investigated for the Iran deal before then launching an attack on House intel member Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Hours after undermining his own National Security Adviser on Twitter, Trump went after Obama.

“Never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!” Trump wrote.

You can see the tweets below:

[Raw Story]

Reality

In 1979, Iran’s then-monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi paid $400 million to the United States government to purchase military parts. But that year’s revolution toppled the shah, and the military parts were never delivered.

To regain its funds, Iran filed a claim against the United States in 1981 in the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, which adjudicates disputes between the two nations. The body, located at the Hague, was established amid negotiations to end the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, in which pro-revolution students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Trump criticizes national security advisor HR McMaster’s comments about Russian meddling in the 2016 election

President Donald Trump, in a late-night tweet, criticized remarks his national security advisor made earlier Saturday about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

H.R. McMaster, who is also a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, told a conference in Germany that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election.

He was citing Friday’s federal indictments, stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, that said Russian operatives conducted a sophisticated internet campaign to sow chaos in the American political scene.

Trump eventually responded to his national security advisor by saying McMaster left out some details from his comments.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump tweeted late Saturday night.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday that these particular indictments did not include allegations that the Russian efforts affected the election’s results. Trump saw the latest development in the case as a vindication.

The indictments released Friday allege, in part, that the Russians sought to disparage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help Trump win. The Russian operatives, according to the charges, attempted to convince some Americans to vote for third-party candidate Jill Stein over Clinton, and also sought to discourage minority turnout at the polls.

McMaster’s comments Saturday were part of a testy exchange with a Russian delegate at the conference.

“As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” McMaster said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday dismissed reports of interference as “blather.”

Trump has repeatedly denied that his campaign colluded with Russians to sway the election in his favor, and has often called the special counsel’s investigation a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” Russian authorities have also rejected claims of collusion.

The president’s tweet targeting McMaster came soon after he suggested in another tweet that the Russia probe had somehow distracted the FBI from seeing warning signs leading to Wednesday’s shooting massacre at a high school in south Florida.

[CNBC]

 

Trump concocted a story about a border agent’s death. The truth won’t catch up.

This is the autopsy of a lie.

On the night of Nov. 18, Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez was found dying on the side of an interstate in West Texas. There were immediate signs it had been an accident. Martinez’s partner, Stephen Garland (who suffered a head injury and doesn’t recall the incident), had radioed for help, saying he thought he ran into a culvert.

But President Trump and his allies saw an opportunity to whip up anti-immigrant fervor. At a Cabinet meeting Nov. 20, Trump announced, with cameras rolling, that “we lost a Border Patrol officer just yesterday, and another one was brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt. . . . We’re going to have the wall.” He also issued a similar tweet.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, offered a reward “to help solve this murder” and to “help us catch this killer.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) declared the incident “a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses.”

And then there was Fox News, reporting that “a border patrol agent was brutally murdered” and going with the headline “Border Patrol agent appeared to be ambushed by illegal immigrants, bashed with rocks before death.” Fox News host Tucker Carlson reported that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way.”

The FBI swung into action, mobilizing 37 field offices, and this week it announced its findings. Although the investigation “has not conclusively determined” what happened, “none of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack on November 18, 2017.”

Compared with the original allegations, the findings got little attention. There was no corrective tweet from Trump or the others and no retraction by Fox News, which buried the FBI’s findings with brief mention. Fox News, which had previously reported immigrants to be guilty of rape allegations that were later dropped, continued to report the border union’s claim of assault “despite FBI finding no scuffle.”

It has been more than 300 years since Jonathan Swift wrote about the utility of falsehood: “If a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect . . . like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.”

Swift could not have better described Trump’s America in the 21st century, when allegation substitutes for evidence. Let us pretend that Russia isn’t interfering in our elections — and therefore let us decline to impose sanctions approved by Congress. Let us concoct stories about “illegal immigrant” murderers and rapists to justify a border wall. And let us tell Americans they can have a free lunch — a $1.5 trillion tax cut and $500 billion in additional spending, all paid for with borrowed funds — and suffer no adverse consequences. By the time people discover what has really happened, it will be too late.

Most Americans will never learn what investigators found about the border attack — because they were being exposed to a new hoax this week: that the key to the United States’ success is in borrowing more. “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” Trump tweeted in celebration after the two-year budget deal cleared Congress Friday morning.

But the economy is already near full employment — exactly the wrong time to enact a stimulus, typically done to jolt an economy out of recession. The deal gives the military even more than Trump sought and, with interest, will add almost $420 billion to the deficit, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The tax cut and spending spree leave the government with less power to combat a recession. And a recession is exactly what Wall Street fears as the overstimulated economy forces up inflation and interest rates.

When recession comes, it will be too late. The fiction of a free lunch will already have wasted $2 trillion in the cause of overheating the economy, just as the fiction about the attack on Martinez and Garland has already furthered Trump’s attempt to portray immigrants as criminals.

There was reason to be skeptical early on in that case. Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, one of the first responders on the scene, told The Post shortly after the incident that he doubted it was an attack. He has speculated that it was a fall, or that the two were accidentally sideswiped by a tractor-trailer.

But that didn’t fit Trump’s narrative about murderous immigrants. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.

[Washington Post]

EPA Head Says He Needs to Fly First Class Because People Are Mean to Him in Coach

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has broken months of silence about his frequent premium-class flights at taxpayer expense, saying he needs to fly first class because of unpleasant interactions with other travelers.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke about his flight costs on Tuesday in a pair of interviews in New Hampshire, following a first-class flight to meet with the state’s Republican governor and tour a toxic waste site.

Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader he had some “incidents” on flights shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump last year.

“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” said Pruitt, who confirmed to the newspaper that he had flown first class from Washington to Boston before continuing on to New Hampshire. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”

Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail that accompanies him at all times, even at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. He has also taken other security precautions, including the addition of a $25,000 soundproof “privacy booth” to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices.

Pruitt said he was not involved in the decision for him to fly first class.

“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I’ve flown and spent time, of interaction that’s not been the best,” Pruitt told WMUR TV in Manchester, New Hampshire. “And, so, ingress and egress off the plane … that’s all decisions all made by our (security) detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don’t make any of those decisions. They place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”

Pruitt was asked about the issue following a Washington Post report on Sunday that detailed some of his travel expenses, including a $1,641.43 first-class seat for a short flight in June from Washington to New York City. Pruitt’s ticket cost six times what EPA paid for his aides seated in coach.

The Associated Press reported in July and again in December that spending on commercial airline tickets purchased for Pruitt indicated he was flying in premium-class seats. EPA’s press office has repeatedly refused to comment on whether Pruitt was flying first class.

Federal regulations allow government travelers to fly business class or first class when no cheaper options are “reasonably available” or if there are exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

[TIME]

Trump: ‘I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind’

President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday that he is “totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind.”

The president made the statement as the White House continues to deal with a scandal involving former top aide Rob Porter, whose ex-wives have accused him of domestic violence.

“I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that,” Trump said Wednesday after reporters pressed him on whether he believed the women’s accusations.

It marked the first time Trump directly addressed the notion of domestic violence during the Porter imbroglio, which has thrust the White House into chaos over the past week. On Friday, Trump defended Porter, stressing that the former staff secretary has claimed he is innocent of the claims.

“We wish him well,” Trump said of Porter last week. “I think you also have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday he’s innocent.”

Porter wasn’t the only former White House aide to quit over domestic abuse allegations last week. Speechwriter David Sorensen resigned Friday after The Washington Post reported that Sorensen’s ex-wife accused him of emotional and physical abuse. Sorensen, in turn, denied the allegations and said his former wife actually victimized him.

[CNBC]

Reality

After ten days of dodging direct questions on where he stood on domestic violence and throwing his support behind Rob Porter, who beat his wives, Trump “heroically” says the right thing.

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