Trump Declares ‘NO COLLUSION!’ in Early-Morning Tweet After Cohen, Manafort Memos Drop

After dubiously claiming the Michael Cohen sentencing memo “totally clears” him last night, President Donald Trump this morning sent out a mostly all-caps “NO COLLUSION” tweet.

[Mediaite]

Trump tweets to declare he was cleared by filings that named him as unindicted co-conspirator

After being named as an unindicted co-conspirator in legal filings by federal prosecutors, President Donald Trump claimed total vindication.

“Totally clears the President,” Trump tweeted Friday.

[Raw Story]

CNN offices evacuated in bomb scare just as Trump tweeted ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’ about media he doesn’t like

Donald Trump launched his latest attack on the media just as the offices of CNN, frequently the target of his anger, were being evacuated following a bomb threat.

Police searched the broadcaster’s New York newsroom after a caller claimed five explosives had been placed inside the building. Officers later gave the all-clear.

Moments after the threat, which CNN said came just before 10pm, the president wrote on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

There is no suggestion he had seen reports of the evacuation when he posted the tweet, which followed posts in which accused the FBI of pursuing a “witch hunt” against him.

But the apparent coincidence is likely to reignite concerns about Mr Trump’s anti-media rhetoric.

Earlier this year, CNN and several high-profile critics, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were targeted with mail bombs allegedly sent by a Trump supporter.

New York Police Department said the latest threat against the broadcaster on Thursday night proved to be hoax.

Police said they received an emergency call about the threat at 10.07pm local time (3.07am GMT), a minute before Mr Trump’s tweet.

Staff evacuated the Time Warner Centre and Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight was taken off the air as officers searched the building with a bomb squad on standby.

The network broadcast pre-recorded programming for about 30 minutes before Mr Lemon’s show resumed live from the street outside.

No bombs were found inside the building.

[The Independent]

Trump fires off late-night tweetstorm on the eve of a landmark moment in the Russia investigation

President Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets on a range of topics on Thursday evening, the night before the special counsel Robert Mueller was expected to submit several important filings related to the Russia investigation.

Trump fired off two tweets relating to a Fox Business segment in which the anchor Trish Regan sought to cast doubt on the FBI’sjustification for obtaining a FISA warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Regan suggested the FBI was “weaponized in order to take down President Donald Trump.”

“Is this really America?” Trump tweeted. “Witch Hunt!”

In another tweet one minute later, Trump appeared to revive a particularly inflammatory attack on the news media, saying only “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump went on to mention Arizona, which he claimed was “bracing for a massive surge at a NON-WALLED area.”

Trump appeared to be referringto the Customs and Border Patrol’s training exercise in Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday, where agents prepared “to deal with the potential of large crowds and assaultive behavior by caravan members, should a situation arise.”

Trump also mentioned the Democratic lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who refused to support Trump’s plans for a $5 billion down payment to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border.

“WE WILL NOT LET THEM THROUGH,” Trump tweeted. “Big danger. Nancy and Chuck must approve Boarder Security and the Wall!”

Trump’s rapid-fire tweets came the night before Mueller’s deadline to submit documents outlining what the special counsel’s office has described as the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s “crimes and lies,” including allegations he lied in violation of his plea deal with the special counsel. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel while pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of conspiracy against the US in September.

Trump followed up with a series of five tweets on Friday morning in which he repeated his common refrain that the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” and accused Mueller of having multiple conflicts of interest, including being “Best Friends” with former FBI Director James Comey, who was set to testify to Congress on Friday.

The special counsel’s team also Friday was expected to submit its sentencing recommendation for the former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to financial crimes and, more recently, lying to Congress.

Mueller’s office released a similar recommendation this week for the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who cooperated with investigators after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

Trump’s tweets on Friday morning Trump targeted Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Trump accused Weissmann of having a “horrible and vicious prosecutorial past” and said he “wrongly destroyed people’s lives” — referring to a conviction he made against an Enron auditor that waslater overturned by the Supreme Court.

Trump also accused members of Mueller’s team of having made donations to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and asked whether it would be included in Mueller’s report. He also revived his talking points alleging corruption in the Democratic National Committee and on Clinton’s campaign.

[Business Insider]

White House seeks to end subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration wants to end subsidies for electric cars and other items, including renewable energy sources.

Asked about plans after General Motors Co (GM.N) announced U.S. plant closings and layoffs last week, Kudlow pointed to the $2,500-to-$7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy plug-in electric vehicles, including those made by GM, under federal law.

“As a matter of our policy, we want to end all of those subsidies,” Kudlow said. “And by the way, other subsidies that were imposed during the Obama administration, we are ending, whether it’s for renewables and so forth.”

Asked about a timeline, he said: “It’s just all going to end in the near future. I don’t know whether it will end in 2020 or 2021.”

The tax credits are capped by Congress at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer, after which the subsidy phases out. GM has said it expects to hit the threshold by the end of 2018, which means under the current law, its tax credit scheme would end in 2020. Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said in July it had hit the threshold. Other automakers may not hit the cap for several years.

Experts say the White House cannot change the cap unilaterally. U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation for the company’s decision.

Kudlow made clear any changes in subsidies would not just affect GM. “I think legally you just can’t,” he said.

Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January and are unlikely to agree to end subsidies for electric cars and many have been pushing for additional incentives.

Tesla and GM have lobbied Congress for months to lift the cap on electric vehicles or make other changes, but face an uphill battle make changes before the current Congress expires.

In October, Senator Dean Heller proposed lifting the current cap on electric vehicles eligible for tax credits but phase out the credit for the entire industry in 2022. Two other senators in September proposed lifting the per manufacturer credit and extending the benefit for 10 years.

Also in October, Senator John Barrasso a Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, proposed legislation to end the EV tax credit entirely.

[Raw Story]

Treasury proposes postal changes after Trump attacks on Amazon

President Donald Trump’s task force scrutinizing U.S. Postal Service operations is proposing an overhaul of the financially distressed agency, including changes to how it prices packages shipped by retailers like Amazon, a frequent target of the president’s attacks.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Treasury-led task force says the Postal Service should price packages “with profitability in mind” and impose higher rates on general e-commerce goods and other non-essential items sent through the mail.

Trump commissioned the report earlier this year after months of attacking Amazon for, in his view, ripping off USPS and treating the agency like its “Delivery Boy.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos privately owns The Washington Post, and Trump, who slams the Post’s coverage as unfair, often conflates the newspaper with the e-commerce giant, even calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”

The report’s recommendations are broad and sweeping. They call for stronger oversight by the Postal Service Board of Governors — which sat empty for much of Trump’s presidency. They also encourage the agency to consider other revenue streams, such as renting out unused real estate to businesses, charging outside shippers for access to people’s mail boxes and issuing hunting and fishing licenses.

But the ideas for package rates are likely to draw the most scrutiny, given the president’s attacks on Amazon. The task force says the Postal Service should distinguish between essential items, such as medication or tax notices, and non-essential items, such as consumer products — and mark up the latter to generate more income.

The administration on Tuesday denied that it’s targeting Amazon, saying the report’s recommendations would hit the coffers of all retailers with a large volume of online sales.

“None of our findings or recommendations are linked to any one customer or competitor of the Postal Service,” said a senior administration official. “We based our analysis on the needs of the entire economy and all its businesses.”

But Trump’s frequent rants about Amazon hover over the findings.

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” Trump tweeted in April shortly before the White House announced the task force. “Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”

The president told The Daily Caller last month that Amazon is “getting the bargain of the century,” adding, “I think that’s why I’ve asked for a review.”

The task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, spent weeks meeting with companies and trade associations in affected industries like retail and package delivery. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies have also been involved. A report was initially delivered to the White House in August, though its public release was delayed until later in the year.

The senior administration official said the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission can enact some of the changes, including increasing package prices, without intervention from Congress, but said other proposed changes would require lawmakers to act.

For more than a decade, the Postal Service has logged billion-dollar loses, resulting in a total cumulative deficit of nearly $63 billion as of September. But those losses are not driven by Amazon or other big shippers of packages. Instead, much of it can be attributed to the decline of letter mail in the internet era and the mandatory payments that Congress has ordered the Postal Service to make into a retiree benefits fund. The task force recommends restructuring that obligation, but not doing away with it altogether.

The report does not call for privatizing the Postal Service, despite the Trump administration saying in June that it wanted to do so as part of a government reorganization.

Amazon did not immediately comment, but an industry coalition that represents the e-commerce giant warned the report could cause widespread economic damage.

“If it were to be adopted in its entirety I think we would be approaching a worst-case scenario from a consumer and business perspective,” said John McHugh, a congressman-turned-lobbyist who leads the so-called Package Coalition, saying Congress should be involved in changing longstanding Postal Service regulations.

Amazon, like other bulk users of the Postal Service, negotiates a special shipping rate that is not publicly disclosed. Though Amazon would pay below the standard rate, by law, those negotiated arrangements must cover the cost of shipping the packages — meaning the post office cannot lose money on them as Trump claims. Each agreement is evaluated and endorsed by the Postal Regulatory Commission and approved by the Postal Service Board of Governors.

Package delivery has been a rare bright spot on the Postal Service’s earnings statement. Mail carriers are delivering more packages than ever before — as the number of standard letters steadily declines — bringing in $21.5 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year.

Amazon has been developing other delivery options in anticipation that the Postal Service cannot accommodate its rapid growth. It runs a service in which contract drivers drop orders at customers’ doors and recently announced it would lease trucks to entrepreneurs to start delivery services. The company has also experimented with aerial drones and, according to media reports, self-driving vehicles, though those are still years away from adoption because of technological and regulatory hurdles.

The investments could help Amazon lessen the sting of a rate hike over the long term or gradually move away from the Postal Service altogether if shipping expenses become too prohibitive. Industry advocates have warned that fewer packages would only mean more pain for the agency’s bottom line.

Trump’s most direct impact on the Postal Service could be appointees to the Board of Governors. The body plays a key role approving so-called negotiated service agreements, giving it a hand in how much Amazon and others must pay for postal services. The board could, in theory, send Postal Service negotiators back to the table if such deals are not judged to be in the agency’s best interest.

The board sat entirely vacant for the first 18 months of Trump’s presidency. He’s so far nominated people for three of the nine board seats, two of whom were approved by Senate-wide vote in late August.

[Politico]

Trump sent a love note to Kim Jong Un through South Korean president saying that he likes the dictator

According to a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that President Donald Trump asked him to pass a note to North Korea’s dictator.

According to CNN’s Manu Raju, the note said, “President Trump has a very amicable view of Chairman Kim and that he likes Chairman Kim… As much that he wishes to implement the rest of the agreement with Chairman Kim and that he will make true what Chairman Kim wishes.”

Trump hasn’t managed to get Kim Jong Un to agree

During a Minnesota rally in June, Trump told the audience, their agreement outlines denuclearization.

“Sentence one says ‘a total denuclearization of North Korea,’” Trump said. “There will be denuclearization. So that’s the real story.”

While it may have been a huge applause line for Trump, it isn’t true.

“President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018,” the first sentence actually reads.

While it does deal with denuclearization, it doesn’t commit North Korea to anything.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the official statement said.

Not long after, however, it gives the true mandate: “[T]he DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In April, Kim agreed to suspend nuclear tests, though he said it was because they didn’t need them anymore.

In August, however, it revealed North Korea was still developing nuclear weapons, despite the agreement to “work” on things.

Trump announced that he and Kim would be meeting in 2019 to continue their “talks.” It’s unclear the point of the note for the dictator, but at least it reaffirmed his feelings for the so-called “Chairman.”

“He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love, OK?” Trump told a West Virginia audience. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

[Raw Story]

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 calls Russia deal ‘legal and cool’ as Mueller inquiry gathers momentum

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”.

Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016.

In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

“Against all odds,” he continued, “I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail. Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”

The president frequently uses the phrase “witch hunt” to belittle Mueller’s investigation, which began in May last year and seems to have gathered momentum in recent days.

Trump repeatedly said during the election campaign that he had no ties to Russia. In July 2016 he tweeted: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

But Cohen, who had already pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other financial crimes in a separate case brought by federal prosecutors in New York, on Thursday said he had lied to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower skyscraper in Moscow.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June that year, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, Cohen admitted.

Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he briefed Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Trump’s family, had direct contact with Kremlin representatives and considered traveling to Moscow to discuss it.

Trump condemned Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, he acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”

Mueller’s team has brought charges or secured convictions against more than two dozen Russian nationals and entities, as well as several of Trump’s associates, but now the president himself is front and centre. Experts suggested that the walls are closing in.

Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst, told CNN: “Today is the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office. I think this thing is enormous.” An opinion column in the Washington Post was headlined: “Trump should be freaked out right about now.”

Democrats have joined the criticism. Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “This whole thing has likely been a scam from the start. It’s not some wild coincidence that the Administration’s foreign policy is most inexplicable toward the two countries – Russia and Saudi Arabia – where the Trump family pursues the most business.”

But the White House remains defiant. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, issued a statement that said: “BREAKING NEWS ALERT: Michael Cohen is a liar. It’s no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He’s a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization.”

He added: “With regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, the President has been completely open and transparent.”

Trump still owns his private company but had said he would hand over day-to-day dealings to his sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump when he took office in January 2017. He has repeatedly blurred the distinction between business and public office that has been observed by past presidents.

His meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki earlier this year drew fierce criticism after Trump appeared to side with Moscow’s denials over the findings of his own intelligence agencies. After Cohen’s plea, Trump cancelled his planned meeting with Putin at the G20, citing the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday said it believed the meeting was canceled over “the US domestic political situation”.

The Cohen confession comes as Mueller’s investigation gathers pace. Trump has provided responses to written questions while the special counsel has accused his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of lying after his own guilty plea.

On Friday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia asked Mueller’s team to submit a report next week outlining how they believe Manafort breached a plea agreement struck shortly before he was to have gone on trial on charges including money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist for the Ukraine government and conspiracy to defraud the US.

The judge set 5 March as a tentative date for sentencing of Manafort, a veteran Washington consultant convicted of financial crimes. Prosecutors also left open the possibility that new charges could be filed against Manafort for lying. “That determination has not been made,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said.

In August, a jury in Virginia had convicted Manafort of bank and tax fraud in a separate case. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 8 February for that conviction.

Mueller continues to investigate whether campaign associates had advance knowledge of hacked emails becoming public. Another potential target, Jerome Corsi, has rejected a plea offer and faces a possible indictment.

[The Guardian]

A new warning to federal employees: No talk of ‘Resistance’ or opinions about impeachment at work

The federal government has issued a new guidance for the political activity of federal government workers, warning that weighing in on impeachment or talking about “the Resistance” may constitute prohibited activity, in what some ethics advocates say could be an opening to limit dissent.

The Office of Special Counsel is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work. The office, not to be confused with special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation, is run by Henry Kerner, whom President Donald Trump nominated to the post.

The unsigned “Guidance Regarding Political Activity,” which was issued on Tuesday, takes the form of a question and answer and seeks to clarify the types of actions and rhetoric considered political activity and therefore prohibited at work.

In a nod to the current climate, it stipulated that advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office would be considered political because of its implications for future elections and that any use of terms like “resistance” and “#resist” would be construed as political activity.

But some government watchdogs said they feared the guidelines could have wide-ranging effects on the nearly 3 million federal government employees in the United States, as well as other state and local employees who work with federally funded programs. The ethics nonprofit American Oversight said the guidance raised “significant concerns” in a letter it sent to the office on Thursday, urging it to withdraw the memo.

“OSC’s position on impeachment advocacy or opinions goes too far,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, wrote in the letter, adding that “certainly there is a difference between advocating that an official should (or should not) be elected and advocating that an official did (or did not) commit treason or high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution.”

In particular, Evers expressed concern that the guidelines could constrain whistleblowers.

“As OSC knows well, it is critically important to ensure public employees are comfortable raising concerns about waste, fraud, or abuse in the government,” he wrote. “Impeachment is primarily a remedy for severe misconduct. If public employees are aware of conduct that could be impeachable but fear civil or criminal liability under the Hatch Act for saying so, they may be reluctant to approach OSA, inspectors general, or Congress.”

Nick Schwellenbach, the director of investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and an employee of the OSC from 2014 to 2017, said he felt the guidance likely crossed a legal line, saying the Hatch Act was meant to be narrowly focused on political activities around parties and candidates.

“The way OSC has traditionally balanced its enforcement of that statute with the First Amendment is [focused on] supporting a candidate or political party for election. I think once you start talking about more general political views, you’re starting to infringe upon people’s rights,” he said. “This one, I think, goes too far for them. It runs the risk of turning the OSC into an Orwellian enforcer inside the federal workforce.”

Schwellenbach said he believed the guidance could be successfully challenged in court on its constitutionality.

Evers also worried that the restrictions could be used to hem in employees abilities to weigh in on policy discussions.

“If resistance terminology can become inherently ‘political activity,’ so too could statements like ‘Build the Wall’ or ‘Protect our Care,’ which reflect policy positions that nonetheless are tied to the president’s campaign positions,” he wrote. “In addition, conflating resistance terminology with electoral advocacy opens the door to public employees being retaliated against for their policy positions or opinions. … If using resistance terminology is categorically barred under OSC’s Hatch Act interpretation, it could create new, insidious tools for appointees to target public employees.”

The Office of Special Counsel did not return an immediate request for comment.

[Chicago Tribune]

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