Don’t condemn white nationalists, Veterans Affairs’ diversity chief was told after Charlottesville, emails show

A top White House appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response, newly disclosed emails show.

The tense exchange between Georgia Coffey, a nationally recognized expert in workplace diversity and race relations, and John Ullyot, who remains VA’s chief communications official, occurred during a low point in Trump’s presidency: when he blamed “many sides” for the deadly clash in Charlottesville without singling out the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied there.

One woman was killed and dozens were injured in the August 2017 protest, which began over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and ended when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.

VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, made headlines that week when he appeared to break with Trump, telling reporters the violence in Charlottesville “outraged” him. Coffey, a career senior executive at VA, pressed the agency’s leaders to issue a statement making it clear that VA stood against such a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails.

The emails were provided to The Washington Post by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence sheds new light on the politically delicate decisions federal agencies faced as officials sought to balance the need to address employee concerns with a desire not to upset the White House.

A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.

Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency received no such guidance from the White House.

Coffey, who declined to comment, retired from VA shortly after the dust-up, frustrated with what she felt was a lack of support from the Trump administration, according to her former colleagues. She now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.

Ullyot, a seasoned media professional who worked on Trump’s campaign, is VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. His exchange with Coffey was respectful, and he noted that he was acting at Shulkin’s direction, according to his emails. Shulkin, whom Trump forced out of the Cabinet post in March, and other officials were copied on the messages.

At VA, the fallout from Charlottesville remains a sensitive subject. In response to a request seeking comment for this report, VA’s current secretary, Robert Wilkie, issued a statement affirming that “John Ullyot is on the VA team because he is committed to veterans and has spent a lifetime of exceptional service as a Marine and public servant.”

Ullyot referred questions to VA’s public affairs office.

On Aug. 17, days after the Charlottesville violence, Coffey — then deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion — emailed public affairs. She shared a draft of her statement and accompanying remarks, and requested help disseminating it to employees and the public.

Her remarks said the incident served “as a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.” She called on VA employees to be mindful of federal anti-discrimination policies and the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The response from a staffer in public affairs said, “John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week.”

In an emotional statement the day before, at Trump’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Shulkin said he gave “my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. . . . And for me in particular, I think in learning history, that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.”

Other top administration officials echoed his sentiments.

Coffey urged expediency, telling Ullyot that she had sent the statement to Shulkin and his chief of staff for their review, according to their email exchange.

Ullyot then indicated that after consulting with Shulkin, the secretary said that “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events . . . as he did.’’ Ullyot wanted to remove the statement’s more incendiary language but told Coffey she could keep the part that reminded employees of VA’s “strong commitment” to equal employment opportunity and diversity, their emails show.

Coffey told Ullyot that she worried his edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel,” the emails show. She offered to remove Shulkin’s name from the statement, but Ullyot told her that he and Shulkin had agreed not to use it.

Shulkin said in an interview that he does not recall his conversations with Ullyot about how VA should respond to the incident. “I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events . . . and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.

Coffey’s staff worried that she would get in trouble if she disregarded Ullyot’s guidance, according to other emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that first publicized the episode last year. The staff suggested that she should tone down her remarks, but Coffey declined. She posted the full remarks under her name in the monthly newsletter posted online by VA’s diversity office. Agency officials removed it and reprimanded her. She retired soon after.

Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John how he wanted this particular issue handled.” The secretary, Cashour said, was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand. John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance.”

The agency has grappled with issues surrounding race in recent years.

VA has long had an Office on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve race relations internally, and during the Obama administration appointed a senior official to travel around the country to set up conversations on race. The official, John Fuller, retired last year, citing a lack of support from the Trump administration.

In October, a senior official in VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization was forced to remove a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, from his office in Washington after offending employees. The official said he was unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group.

The same month, VA took down a placard outside a conference room in the same office that employees had named for Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general. Cashour said officials were unaware the room had been named for Jackson and blamed a contractor employed by VA and the contractor’s supervisor. The contractor was instructed to take down the placard but had failed to do so, Cashour said.

[Washington Post]

Trump says country ‘would save billions’ if Democrats agreed to fund border wall

President Trump on Monday claimed that the country would “save billions of dollars” if Democrats voted to provide billions of dollars in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The president went on to repeat a threat to close the southern border and said that immigrants will not be allowed in the “country illegally.”

“Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump has previously threatened to shut down the southern border in response to an approaching caravan of Central American migrants.

He has additionally directed thousands of troops deployed to the border, and attempted to curb certain immigrants from being able to claim asylum as the group of migrants trekked toward the U.S. border.

The president revived his calls for a border wall on Monday as Congress grapples over wall funding while trying to pass spending bills and avert a partial government shutdown.

The Senate passed its version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill with bipartisan support over the summer. The measure would allocate $1.6 billion for border security, including fencing.

The White House has since demanded $5 billion for border security, including wall funding, putting Democrats and the president at an impasse.

Trump has threatened to veto a bill that does not include adequate funding, while Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Democrats oppose spending more than $1.6 billion.

Cracking down on illegal immigration and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a hallmark of the Trump administration after focusing heavily on the issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Congress has until Dec. 7 to pass seven appropriations bills to keep the entire government funded. The president previously signed five funding bills in September, and agencies covered by those bills would not be affected by a shutdown this month.

Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route back from the Group of 20 Summit on Saturday that he would consider approving a two-week extension of government funding to provide more time in the wake of the death of former President George H.W. Bush.

[The Hill]

Trump defends use of tear gas at the border

President Trump on Monday defended the use of tear gas against asylum seekers at the border, telling reporters that it was a “very minor form of tear gas” and questioning why migrants were trying to cross the border.

“First of all, the tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself. It’s very safe,” Trump told reporters Monday evening in Mississippi.

“But you really say, why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming? And it’s going to be formed and they’re running up with a child,” he added.

Photos circulated on Monday showing women and children at a port of entry near San Diego fleeing tear gas, which was fired by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

The CBP said in a statement Monday that agents fired the tear gas after migrants attempted crossing the border illegally, some of them throwing rocks at border agents.

Trump earlier Monday said that border agents were forced to fire the tear gas.

“They had to use because they were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas. And here’s the bottom line: nobody’s coming into our country unless they come in legally,” he told reporters.

In his comments Monday evening, Trump also claimed without evidence that some asylum seekers trying to cross the border were only pretending to be parents because of “certain advantages” that come with having a child.

“In some cases, they’re not the parents. These are people — they call them grabbers. They grab a child because they think they’re going to have a certain status by having a child,” he said.

“You have certain advantages in terms of our crazy laws that, frankly, Congress should be changing. If you changed the laws, you wouldn’t be having this problem,” Trump added.

The president also repeated that “violence” from asylum seekers could lead him to closing off the southern border.

“If they do a charge. Because with a closed border, it’s very easy to stop,” he said. “With an open border it’s not. If they do a charge. As you know, we have a big caravan coming up, another one.”

Trump in recent days has threatened to close off the southern border as he has ramped up his claims that the caravan of migrants moving through Mexico present a national security threat to the U.S. and presses for border wall funding to be included in the spending bills under negotiation by Congress.

[The Hill]

Media

Trump Announces All Asylum Seekers Must Now ‘Stay in Mexico’ Until Claims Approved in Court

On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced via a pair of tweets that migrants seeking asylum will now have to remain in Mexico until their claims are approved in court.

“Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our Country legally. Other than that our very strong policy is Catch and Detain. No ‘Releasing’ into the U.S.,” Trump wrote.

He then added in a second tweet: “All will stay in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!”

Trump’s announcement comes just days after the Washington Postreported on plans to implement the policy as early as Friday.

According to DHS memos obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, Central American asylum seekers who cannot establish a “reasonable fear” of persecution in Mexico will not be allowed to enter the United States and would be turned around at the border.

The plan, called “Remain in Mexico,” amounts to a major break with current screening procedures, which generally allow those who establish a fear of return to their home countries to avoid immediate deportation and remain in the United States until they can get a hearing with an immigration judge. Trump despises this system, which he calls “catch and release,” and has vowed to end it.

At the time, Department of Homeland Security spox Katie Waldman said the policy will not start “this week.”

Yet, Trump also teased plans to close the entire border while speaking with reporters on Thanksgiving Day.

Earlier today, WaPo also reported that the Trump administration had reached a deal with Mexico to allow migrants to wait in the country. However, incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez has since deniedsuch deal exists.

The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is likely to meet court challenges in the days ahead especially since just this past Monday a San Francisco judge ruled Trump may not rewrite immigration laws.

[Mediaite]

Trump Rips Ninth Circuit and Migrant Caravan to Deployed Troops in Thanksgiving Call

On Thanksgiving morning, President Donald Trump held a long teleconference call with various members of the military deployed overseas from his Mar-a-Lago resort. During the call, he brought up border policy, bashed the ninth circuit, and asked about his trade policies.

In the above clip, the President talks to Brigadier General David Lyons of the U.S. Air Force about immigration and the border before bashing the courts.

“Our mission here, we defend the two busiest airfields in Afghanistan, Kandahar and Bagrām,” said the General as he introduced himself and the troops in the room to Trump. They shouted Happy Thanksgiving, and Trump thanked them, and asked Gen. Lyons how things are going.

“Well both the Taliban and ISIS are resilient adversaries, but I think we’re doing well. We get after them every single day. Our objective here is to fight the away game. And so what I mean by that, we never want this adversary to reach our shores again. And so every airman here is dedicated to keeping this fight away from our shores,” he said. “We do what we do for America, sir.”

When speaking of ISIS reaching our shores, most would associate the comment with fighting terrorism abroad rather than at home, which is the mission in the war on terror in which these troops are serving and for which they are risking their lives. President Trump, however, related it to border policy and immigrants.

“You said what you said better than anybody could have said, keep them away from our shores and that’s why we’re doing the strong borders,” said the President. He said that the General had probably seen the news, mentioning “large numbers” of people who “in many cases they are not good people” that are “forming at our border,” an obvious reference to the migrant caravan. He said we have to be careful with the border, and that it was essentially shut down at the moment.

“We’re not letting in anybody, essentially, because, we want to be very, very careful,” he said. “So you’re right, you’re doing it over there, we’re doing it over here.”

He told the General about the troops at the border, and how the wall was being wrapped with barbed wire.

“Nobody is getting through these walls, and we’re going to make sure they’re the right people. That is what you and your family want, and all of your families, that’s what they want” said Trump. “That is why we are all fighting. We are fighting for borders.”

He turned then to the court.

“We get a lot of bad court decisions from the ninth circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side,” said the Commander in Chief to the Brigadier General. “We always lose, and then you lose again, and again. And hopefully you win at the Supreme Court, which we’ve done.”

“But it’s a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border, it’s a disgrace,” Trump added.

In closing, he said that he would see Lyons when he returns home, or “maybe I will see you over there, you never know what is going to happen.”

In the next segment of the call, he spoke trade policy. We’ll have that clip shortly.

[Mediaite]

President Trump signs order denying asylum to illegal border crossers

President Donald Trump on Friday invoked extraordinary national security powers to deny asylum to migrants who enter the country illegally, tightening the border as caravans of Central Americans slowly approach the United States.

Trump is using the same powers he used to push through a version of the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court. The proclamation puts into place regulations adopted Thursday that circumvent laws stating that anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how he or she enters the country.

“We need people in our country but they have to come in legally and they have to have merit,” Trump said Friday as he prepared to depart for Paris.

The measures are meant to funnel asylum seekers through official border crossings for speedy rulings, officials said, instead of having them try to circumvent such crossings on the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border. But the busy ports of entry already have long lines and waits, forcing immigration officials to tell some migrants to turn around and come back to make their claims.

The move was spurred in part by caravans of Central American migrants slowly moving north on foot but will apply to anyone caught crossing illegally, officials said Thursday. It’s unknown whether those in the caravan, many fleeing violence in their homeland, plan to cross illegally.

Administration officials said those denied asylum under the proclamation may be eligible for similar forms of protection if they fear returning to their countries, though they would be subject to a tougher threshold. Those forms of protection include “withholding of removal” — which is similar to asylum, but doesn’t allow for green cards or bringing families — or asylum under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The announcement was the latest push to enforce Trump’s hardline stance on immigration through regulatory changes and presidential orders, bypassing Congress. But those efforts have been largely thwarted by legal challenges and, in the case of family separations this year, stymied by a global outcry that prompted Trump to scrap them.

The new changes were likely to be met with legal challenges, too. Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said Thursday they were clearly illegal.

“U.S. law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree,” he said.

Curbing immigration has been a signature issue for Trump, who pushed it hard in the days leading up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, railing against the caravans that are still hundreds of miles from the border.

He has made little mention of the issue since the election but has sent troops to the border in response. As of Thursday, there are more than 5,600 U.S. troops deployed to the border mission, with about 550 actually working on the border in Texas. The military is expected to have the vast majority of the more than 7,000 troops planned for the mission deployed by Monday, and that number could grow.

Trump also suggested he’d revoke the right to citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil and erect massive “tent

The administration has long said immigration officials are drowning in asylum cases partly because people falsely claim asylum and then live in the U.S. with work permits.

The asylum section of the Immigration and Nationality Act says a migrant is allowed to make a claim up to a year after arriving in the U.S., and it doesn’t matter how they arrive — illegally or through a border crossing.

Migrants who cross illegally are generally arrested and often seek asylum or some other form of protection. Claims have spiked in recent years, and there is a backlog of more than 800,000 cases pending in immigration court. Generally, only about 20 percent of applicants are approved.

Trump has long said those seeking asylum should come through legal ports of entry. But many migrants are unaware of that guidance, and official border crossings have grown clogged.

Officials have turned away asylum seekers at border crossings because of overcrowding, telling them to return later. Backlogs have become especially bad in recent months at crossings in California, Arizona and Texas, with some people waiting five weeks to try to claim asylum at San Diego’s main crossing.

In 2017, the U.S. fielded more than 330,000 asylum claims, nearly double the number two years earlier and surpassing Germany as highest in the world.

It’s unclear how many people en route to the U.S. will even make it to the border. About 4,800 migrants are sheltered in a sports complex in Mexico City, some 600 miles from the U.S. border. Several smaller groups were trailing hundreds of miles to the south; officials estimated about 7,000 in all were in the country in the caravans. The migrants are largely poor people and many say they’re fleeing violence; more than 1,700 were children under 18, and more than 300 were children under age 5.

Similar caravans have gathered regularly over the years and have generally dwindled by the time they reach the southern border. Most have passed largely unnoticed.

[Chicago Tribune]

Trump tells black reporter she’s ‘racist’ for asking him to renounce white nationalism

President Donald Trump accused African-American reporter Yamiche Alcindor of asking a “racist” question on Wednesday.

At a White House press conference, the PBS reporter wondered if the president was concerned that he is sending the wrong message by calling himself a “nationalist.”

“Some heard that as emboldening white nationalists,” Alcindor explained. “There are some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric.”

“Why do I have the highest poll numbers ever with African-Americans?” Trump retorted. “My highest poll numbers — that’s such a racist question, honestly. I know you have it written down and you’re going to tell me — that’s a racist question.”

“I love our country, I do,” the president continued. “I don’t mind helping the world but we have to straighten out our country first and our problems.”

Trump added: “But to say what you said is so insulting to me, it’s a very terrible thing you said.”

[Raw Story]

‘Sit down!’ Trump berates CNN’s April Ryan as she tries to question him about voter suppression

In a lengthy press conference Wednesday following a Democratic takeover of the House, President Donald Trump denounced the Mueller investigation as a “disgrace” and shouted at several CNN reporters.

The president’s antipathy towards certain reporters was in full display. He repeatedly shut down CNN’s April Ryan when she tried to ask a question, refusing to cede the microphone to her.

“Will you please sit down?” he shouted at the CNN reporter. Ryan shook her head and took her seat.

[Raw Story]

Media

Trump shocks with racist new ad days before midterms

In the most racially charged national political ad in 30 years, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party accuse Democrats of plotting to help people they depict as Central American invaders overrun the nation with cop killers.

The new web video, tweeted by the President five days before the midterm elections, is the most extreme step yet in the most inflammatory closing argument of any campaign in recent memory.

The Trump campaign ad is the latest example of the President’s willingness to lie and fear-monger in order to tear at racial and societal divides; to embrace demagoguery to bolster his own political power and the cause of the Republican midterm campaign.

The web video — produced for the Trump campaign — features Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican man who had previously been deported but returned to the United States and was convicted in February in the slaying of two California deputies.

“I’m going to kill more cops soon,” a grinning Bracamontes is shown saying in court as captions flash across the screen reading “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.”

The ad recalls the notorious “Willie Horton” campaign ad financed by supporters of the George H.W. Bush campaign in the 1988 presidential election. Horton was a convicted murderer who committed rape while furloughed under a program in Massachusetts where Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis was governor.

The ad has since come to be seen as one of the most racially problematic in modern political history since it played into white fear and African-American stereotypes. It was regarded at the time as devastating to the Dukakis campaign.

Trump’s web video, while just as shocking as the Horton spot, carries added weight since, unlike its 1988 predecessor, it bears the official endorsement of the leader of the Republican Party — Trump — and is not an outside effort. Given that Trump distributed it from his Twitter account, It also comes with all the symbolic significance of the presidency itself.

In a first reaction, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the ad was a sign of desperation and suggested that Trump was losing the argument over health care that is at the center of the Democratic campaign.

“This is distracting, divisive Donald at his worst,” Perez said on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

“This is fear mongering. … They have to fear monger and his dog whistle of all dog whistles is immigration. This has been Donald Trump’s playbook for so long.”

[CNN]

Trump, Asked by Reporter If Soros Is Funding the Caravan, Says ‘I Wouldn’t Be Surprised’

Speaking outside the White House on Wednesday, President Donald Trump refused to rule out the possibility that George Soros might be behind the migrant caravan.

Trump was first asked if he thought someone was funding the caravan.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Trump replied.

George Soros?” a reporter pressed.

“I don’t know who, but I wouldn’t be surprised,” Trump continued on. “A lot of people say yes.”

A “lot of people” includes Fox News folks like Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham, as well as pro-Trump Congressman Matt Gaetz who tweeted out this:

The conspiracy theory — which apparently dates back to March — may also have contributed to the synagogue slayings in Pittsburgh.

Standing on the White House lawn on Wednesday, Trump gave no further indication about why he would “not be surprised” that Soros was involved, although blaming Soros has proven popular among Trump’s base.

[Mediaite]

1 2 3 4 21