Trump begs GOP to ‘stay united’ in support of border wall measure

President Trump on Wednesday implored Senate Republicans to “STAY UNITED!” and vote for his wall on the southern border, dismissing arguments raised to support blocking his national emergency declaration.

“Senate Republicans are not voting on constitutionality or precedent, they are voting on desperately needed Border Security & the Wall,” Trump posted on his Twitter page. “Our Country is being invaded with Drugs, Human Traffickers, & Criminals of all shapes and sizes. That’s what this vote is all about. STAY UNITED!”

The Democrat-controlled House voted last month to block Trump’s emergency declaration, a move the White House says would allow the president to divert money from the Pentagon construction fund for barrier construction.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber will vote on the resolution before lawmakers go on recess on March 15, but he said there aren’t enough votes to pass it.

Four Republicans have announced that they will vote against it – Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

[New York Post]

Trump Quotes Tucker Carlson to Bash ‘Fake News’ as ‘Enemy of the People’ Again

President Donald Trump quoted Tucker Carlson‘s opening monologue on how far the media has fallen tonight to bash the “fake news” as the “enemy of the people” once again.

Carlson tonight opened by blasting BuzzFeed, mocking their cat coverage, ripping their Russia reporting after Michael Cohen‘s testimony last week, and facing off with editor-in-chief Ben Smith, but before all that he said this:

“We’ve seen an awful lot of change during the two years Trump has been president. American politics has been completely reordered. But also the American media has changed forever. News organizations that seemed like a big deal just five years ago are now extinct. Some of them are totally forgotten. Those that remain have either degraded themselves beyond recognition––like the New Yorker––or they’ve been purchased like Jeff Bezos to conduct unregistered lobbying for Amazon.com, like the Washington Post. It’s hard to remember that not so long ago, America had prestige media outlets.”

He went on to deride BuzzFeed as a “New York-based cat blog.”

And after Carlson’s show finished tonight, the president approvingly quoted him to once again bash the “enemy of the people”:

This morning the New Yorker––one of the news outlets Carlson name-dropped––published a report on the president’s relationship with Fox News, including how he “frequently posts about points that he agrees with” while watching.

[Mediaite]

Trump directed Gary Cohn to pressure DOJ to block AT&T-Time Warner deal

President Trump reportedly directed his former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, to pressure the Justice Department to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, according to a report in The New Yorker.

In an explosive new investigation into the relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News, the magazine reported new details that contradict the administration’s assurances that Trump had no role in the Justice Department’s lawsuit trying to stop the merger.

Citing an unidentified “well-informed source,” The New Yorker reported that in summer 2017, months before the Justice Department filed its antitrust lawsuit, Trump called Cohn and then-chief of staff John Kelly into the Oval Office and told them that he wanted to “make sure” the Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking to block the merger was filed.

“I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened!” Trump told Kelly, according to the report. “I’ve mentioned it 50 times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”

Trump repeatedly criticized the $85 billion deal on the campaign trail and as president, vowing to block the merger and saying that it was “not good for the country.”

But, according to The New Yorker, many saw Trump’s opposition to the deal as motivated by his disdain for CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. But the Justice Department has insisted that the president’s unhappiness with CNN, which he often targets in tweets and at rallies as “fake news,” did not influence the case.

After Trump’s direction in the 2017 meeting, The New Yorker reported, Cohn refused to follow the instruction, knowing that it would be “highly improper” for Trump to involve himself in stopping the merger.

“Don’t you f—ing dare call the Justice Department,” he reportedly told Kelly. “We are not going to do business that way.”

A spokesperson for Cohn declined to comment to The New Yorker, and Kelly did not respond to request for comment.

A former White House official who was not named in the report told The New Yorker that Trump often “vented” in “frustration” about the AT&T-Time Warner deal and his desire to block it.

“The President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy,” the former official said. “But he wanted to bring down the hammer.”

A federal judge ruled against the Justice Department last June, allowing the merger to go forward. The Trump administration appealed the decision, but a federal appeals court last month upheld the lower court’s decision.

The anecdote about Trump’s instruction to Cohn appears in The New Yorker’s report as an example of how the Trump administration’s actions have been “pro-Fox.”

The New Yorker reported that Trump’s effort to have Cohn push to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, in addition to the administration’s approval of the Disney-Fox merger and opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune merger, would all have benefitted the Murdoch family and Fox News.

The Hill has reached out to 21st Century Fox and the Department of Justice for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump Accuses Adam Schiff of ‘Illegally Leaking to Fake News CNN’

President Donald Trump baselessly accused Rep. Adam Schiff of leaking to CNN on Sunday.

Trump’s accusation, framed with a question mark at the end, came on a busy day of tweeting for the president.

At one point, Trump seemed to blame Democrats in some way for his lackluster North Korean summit, writing: “For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk.’ Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!”

And then this

[CNN]

Trump Rails Against Mueller: Trying to Take Me Down With ‘BullshIt!’

President Donald Trump railed against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his team of investigators and former Attorney General Jeff Sessionsduring a lengthy and profane tirade at CPAC on Saturday.

During an extensive improvised riff, Trump praised his own election victory in 2016, calling it “the greatest of all time.”

“You put the wrong people in a couple of positions…and all of a sudden, they are trying to take you out with bullshit!” Trump said, which drew rapturous applause and chants of “Bullshit!” from inside the hall, per reports.

“Robert Mueller never received a single vote,” Trump said, of the investigator appointed to lead a probe into his campaign’s ties with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump then turned his ire to Sessions, who served as attorney general through several years of presidential Twitter abuse, after he recused himself from the Russia investigation given his work on the 2016 campaign.

[Mediaite]

Media

More Than 2 Years Later, Trump Complains About Media Coverage of Inauguration Crowd Size in CPAC Speech

In his big speech to CPAC this afternoon, President Donald Trumpcomplained again about the media coverage of his inauguration crowd size a little over two years ago.

Trump first railed against the Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel for a misleading December 2017 tweet about the size of the crowd at one of his rallies. Weigel took down the tweet after Trump initially tweeted about it. The President followed up at the time by saying Weigel should be fired:

He blasted Weigel today for a bit––”if that were a conservative, he would’ve been fired on the spot”––before going even further back to complain about media coverage of his inauguration crowd size.

Yes, really:

“I watched one of the evening shows that are ridiculous how horrible they are, how mean, how horrible. I watched it by mistake, and they showed… from the White House all the way down, they showed there were people––nobody’s ever seen it. The capital down to the Washington Monument, but I saw pictures that there were no people. Those pictures were taken hours before, right? They always mention crowd sizes. ‘He talks about crowd sizes.’ So I’m constantly bugging Mercedes whenever we had a slow moment. I say, Mercedes and Sarah, show them the pictures. Show them and compare them with what they put on television. Those pictures were taken hours before. And remember this also, not that Obama would do this, but we had fencing all the way down to the Washington Monument, and it was raining. And it was wet and the grass was wet. And women and men… they had to walk all the way down, they had to walk with high heels in many cases. They had to walk all the way down to the Washington Monument and then back!”

Sean Spicer‘s 2017 briefing room debut, you’ll remember, involved him railing against the media coverage of the inauguration crowd size at length. He was roundly lambasted for that briefing.

[Mediaite]

Trump Calls Kim Jong-un a ‘Real Leader’ in Hannity Interview

President Trump continued to sing Kim Jong-un’s praises in a new interview with Sean Hannity, calling the North Korean politician a “real leader,” among other compliments.

“He’s a character and he’s a real personality and he’s very smart. He’s sharp as you can be,” Trump told Hannity in a sit down interview on Thursday night. “He’s a real leader.”

The president immediately added Kim was “pretty mercurial” —  but that he didn’t “say that necessarily in a bad way.”

Trump’s comments follow his trip to Vietnam for a second in-person meeting with Kim. Talks of nuclear disarmament, according to The New York Times on Thursday, fizzled out over a disagreement on lifting stiff sanctions on North Korea.

“It was about the sanctions,” Trump said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

On Thursday, Trump said he didn’t believe Kim knew about the treatment of American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in early 2016 on charges he stole a North Korean propaganda poster. Warmbier was returned to the U.S. in a comatose state in June 2017 and died shortly after. Kim, according to Trump, “felt very badly about” Warmbier’s death.

The Warmbier family, in a statement to MSNBC on Friday, responded to the president’s recent comments.

“We have been respectful during this summit process,” the family said.”Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity.”

The Warmbiers added:  “No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

[The Wrap]

Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance

President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.

The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance.

Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, also said that at the time the clearance was granted last year that his client went through a standard process. Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and Mr. Kushner’s wife, said the same thing three weeks ago.

Asked on Thursday about the memos contradicting the president’s account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr. Lowell, said on Thursday: “In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.”

The decision last year to grant Mr. Kushner a top-secret clearance upgraded him from earlier temporary and interim status. He never received a higher-level designation that would have given him access to need-to-know intelligence known as sensitive compartmented information.

It is not known precisely what factors led to the problems with Mr. Kushner’s security clearance. Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. The issue also generated criticism of Mr. Trump for having two family members serve in official capacities in the West Wing.

Mr. Kushner has spent this week abroad working on a Middle East peace plan. Among his meetings was one with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

While the president has the legal authority to grant a clearance, in most cases, the White House’s personnel security office makes a determination about whether to grant one after the F.B.I. has conducted a background check. If there is a dispute in the personnel security office about how to move forward — a rare occurrence — the White House counsel makes the decision. In highly unusual cases, the president weighs in and grants one himself.

In Mr. Kushner’s case, personnel division officials were divided about whether to grant him a top-secret clearance.

In May 2018, the White House Counsel’s Office, which at the time was led by Mr. McGahn, recommended to Mr. Trump that Mr. Kushner not be given a clearance at that level. But the next day, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway, the people familiar with the events said.

The question of Mr. Kushner’s access to intelligence was a flash point almost from the beginning of the administration. The initial background check into Mr. Kushner dragged on for more than a year, creating a distraction for the White House, which struggled to explain why one of the people closest to the president had yet to be given the proper approval to be trusted with the country’s most sensitive information.

The full scope of intelligence officials’ concerns about Mr. Kushner is not known. But the clearance had been held up in part over questions from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. about his foreign and business contacts, including those related to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the events.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Kushner was part of a group that met with a Russian lawyer who went to Trump Tower claiming to have political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. And during the presidential transition, Mr. Kushner had a meeting with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, and the head of a Russian state-owned bank. When he applied for a security clearance, he did not reveal those meetings.

He later made several amendments to that section of his application, known as an SF86. His aides at the time insisted he had omitted those meetings inadvertently.

Mr. Kushner initially operated with a provisional clearance as his background check proceeded.

In an entry to Mr. Kushner’s personnel file on Sept. 15, 2017, the head of the personnel security division, Carl Kline, wrote, “Per conversation with WH Counsel the clearance was changed to interim Top Secret until we can confirm that the DOJ or someone else actually granted a final clearance. This action is out of an abundance of caution because the background investigation has not been completed.”

In a statement to The Times when Mr. Kushner received the clearance last year, Mr. Lowell said that “his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process.”

During a review of security clearances in February 2018 that was prompted by the controversy surrounding Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary, who had been accused of domestic abuse, Mr. Kushner’s clearance was downgraded from interim top secret to secret, limiting his access to classified information. At the time, Mr. Kelly wrote a five-page memo, revoking temporary clearances that had been in place since June 1, 2017.

That affected both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, who told friends and advisers that they believed that Mr. Kelly and Mr. McGahn were targeting them for petty reasons instead of legitimate concerns flagged by officials.

Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump both complained to the president about the situation, current and former administration officials said. In Mr. Kushner’s case, Mr. Trump would often turn to other aides and say in frustration, “Why isn’t this getting done?” according to a former administration official. On at least one occasion, the president asked another senior official if the person could sort out the issue. That official said no, according to this account.

Mr. Kelly did not believe it was appropriate to overrule the security clearance process and had brushed aside or avoided dealing with Mr. Kushner’s requests, a former administration official said. Mr. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

House Democrats are in the early stages of an investigation into how several Trump administration officials obtained clearances, including Mr. Kushner.

Mr. Trump’s precise language to Mr. Kelly about Mr. Kushner’s clearance in their direct conversation remains unclear. Two of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s discussions with Mr. Kelly said that there might be different interpretations of what the president said. But Mr. Kelly believed it was an order, according to two people familiar with his thinking.

And Mr. Trump was definitive in his statements to The Times in the January interview.

“I was never involved with the security” clearances for Mr. Kushner, the president said. “I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”

A recent report by NBC revealed that Mr. Kline had overruled two career security specialists who had rejected Mr. Kushner’s application based on the F.B.I.’s concerns. A senior administration official confirmed the details laid out in the NBC report.

Mr. Kline was acting on the directive sent down by the president, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The day that Mr. Lowell described Mr. Kushner’s process as having gone through normal routes, aides to Mr. Kushner had asked White House officials to deliver a statement from Mr. Kelly supporting what Mr. Lowell had said. But Mr. Kelly refused to do so, according to a person with knowledge of the events.

[The New York Times]

Trump defends Kim Jong Un over death of Otto Warmbier

President Trump on Thursday defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family says he was “brutally tortured” while imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 after being flown back to United States in a coma.

The president condemned the “brutality of the North Korean regime” following Warmbier’s death at 22 years old, but he took a softer stance toward Kim at the conclusion of their second summit.

“I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”

Trump said that he spoke to Kim about the death of Warmbier — whose family has called it a murder — and that Kim “feels badly about it.” He said the North Korea leader, who rules the country with an iron grip, knew about the case but learned about it only after the fact because, Trump suggested, “top leadership” might not have been involved.

“He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word,” Trump said.

Richard Cullen, the attorney for Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who in December won a $501 million judgment against North Korea for the death of their son, said the couple probably will not say anything publicly about the president’s comment.

Trump’s defense of Kim mirrors his willingness to take the word of autocrats in other cases despite the findings of his own government or experts, particularly when confronting the leader is not what Trump sees as in his political interest.

Trump has not agreed with his intelligence community’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia who has forged an alliance with the administration — ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, was reportedly cut up with a bone saw, and messages later showed that the crown prince had plotted in the past to kill him. The Saudi government has blamed the operation on a rogue band of operatives who were sent to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

Trump has repeatedly said that the crown prince has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death while emphasizing his own view that preserving the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is most important.

“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said of whether Mohammed knew of the plan to kill Khashoggi. The remarks were included in an October news release defending his administration’s handling of the situation.

And Trump has sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his denial that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election — even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere as part of an effort to sow discord and help Trump.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said standing beside the Russian president during a joint news conference in Helsinki in July.

Trump’s remarks about Warmbier and Kim drew bipartisan criticism. Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s denial of responsibility was “reprehensible.”

“He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier,” said Santorum on CNN, adding, “I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump’s remark was “detestable.”

“Walking away from the summit was better than making a bad deal,” he wrote in a Thursday morning post. “It’s also the result of a poorly planned strategy. But accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from Ohio, was detained in Pyongyang after participating in an organized tour in December 2015 and was held for 17 months, after being charged with spying for the United States and being coerced into making an on-camera confession. His parents have stated that all the charges against him were untrue. Warmbier returned to his hometown of Cincinnati in a coma and died a few days later.

Trump said at the time that he was incensed by the death. He forged a relationship with the Warmbier family, even meeting with them in the Oval Office, and introduced them to a rousing ovation at his 2018 State of the Union address.

“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat,” he said, with Warmbier’s tearful family looking on as he described the regime’s grisly actions.

Fred Warmbier accompanied Vice President Pence as part of the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February 2018.

In a statement announcing a lawsuit against the government of North Korea in April 2018, Warmbier said his son was “taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un. Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son’s life.”

As his relationship has warmed with Kim, Trump has played down human rights abuses in North Korea and has infrequently brought up Otto Warmbier’s death.

Trump has said to advisers that human rights are not a key concern when negotiating with North Korea, and human rights advocatestold The Washington Post in December that they have lost momentum with the administration. 

At the end of his first summit with Kim in June in Singapore, when asked about Warmbier, Trump described his death as a turning point that helped lead to a ratcheting-down of tensions with Kim and a move toward negotiations over its nuclear program.

“I think without Otto this would not have happened,” he said. “Something happened from that day — it was a terrible thing. It was brutal. A lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

On Thursday, Trump jumped in when an American journalist asked Kim about his human rights record, saying they would discuss it privately.

“You’ve got a lot of people,” Trump said of North Korea during Thursday’s news conference. “Big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you’ve got a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. . . . But [Kim] tells me he didn’t know about it.”

[Washington Post]

White House press corps abruptly ordered out of hotel ahead of North Korea summit

The White House press corps was being evicted from its dedicated workspace for the summit here between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — possibly to make room for the North Korean head of state.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted late Monday night that the White House press corps would be relocated from its planned staging ground at the Melia Hotel — including a 200-seat ballroom and stand-up spots for broadcast reporters — to an international media center.

“You must go now! This way,” a Vietnamese security officer barked at members of the press corps in the hotel lobby Wednesday morning.

The forced move was highly unusual because the White House had approved of and supported the use of the space by media who cover the president.

Foreign press have been reporting that Kim would stay at the Melia, and the hotel let guests were made aware over the weekend that a “head of state” would be staying there.

It was not immediately clear who made the decision to boot the White House reporters: North Korea, Vietnam, the U.S. or a combination of those governments.

[NBC News]

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