Trump says he will not fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act violations

President Trump said Friday he will not fire Kellyanne Conway as White House counselor for violating the Hatch Act, rebuking the recommendation of a top federal watchdog.

“No, I’m not going to fire her. I think she’s a terrific person,” Trump said during a call-in interview on “Fox & Friends.”

The president’s comments came one day after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) publicly said Conway should be removed from office, calling her a “repeat offender” who has flouted the law barring federal employees from engaging in political activity in their official duties.

The office is not related to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation.

Trump said he will “get a very strong briefing” on Conway’s Hatch Act violations, but suggested he will not recommend that she change her behavior.

“It looks to me they’re trying to take away her right from free speech and that’s just not fair,” he said.

A 17-page report submitted to the White House found that Conway violated the law in more than half a dozen television interviews and tweets by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity.”

The White House argued the OSC applied the law too broadly and violated Conway’s First Amendment rights. The Hatch Act bars the vast majority of federal employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1947 and 1973.

[The Hill]

EPA chief attacks the media in speech to agency science advisers

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, chose to go “off script” Wednesday morning when he warned the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) against trusting the media.

“I caution you to be careful what you read in the media,” Wheeler said, concluding his remarks to the public meeting — the first time the SAB has meet in a year.

Wheeler was specifically referring to a tweet by Yahoo News journalist Alexander Nazaryan on Monday which quoted Wheeler telling the National Press Club, “‘The media does a disservice to the American public’ by reporting on global warming, says EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Wants more positive coverage.”

And indeed, on Monday, Wheeler did take time to list five things he believes the press “consistently gets wrong” — this included reporting that the environment is getting worse. Instead, the press should be talking more about how it’s been getting better since the 1970s, Wheeler argued.

Nazaryan’s tweet was quickly circulated around the internet, including by a New York Times journalist and the Sierra Club. In response, the EPA sent out a press release stating that the tweet was “misleading,” and accused the Yahoo journalist of choosing to “deliberately spread false information on Twitter.”

This argument was reiterated on Wednesday by Wheeler, who said the fact that the Sierra Club started promoting the tweet made him wonder whether the media and environmental groups were “colluding” for fundraising purposes.

Under the Trump administration, however, the EPA has actively worked to rollback environmental protections, often in line with fossil fuel or other industry interests. Most recently this includes challenging the underlying risk calculations that support clean air rules.

The media has played a critical role in reporting on, and investigating, not just these various policy decisions but also potential ethics controversies and conflicts of interest plaguing the agency.

But Wheeler urged scientists not to trust the media and come to him or other top EPA officials if they had questions or concerns.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration’s EPA has “fact-checked” the media or been antagonistic toward reporters. Last year, reporters from major news outlets, including the Associated Press and CNN, were banned from attending a summit on harmful chemicals; one journalist was even forcibly removed by security.

And in September 2017, the EPA’s press office sent out a press release titled “EPA Response To The AP’s Misleading Story,” which accused AP reporter Michael Biesecker of writing an “incredibly misleading story” about Superfund sites and Hurricane Harvey. (The EPA did not, however, contradict any facts in Biesecker’s story.)

Meanwhile, the EPA has used articles written by climate science deniers, including the Heartland Institute and the Daily Caller, as their own press releases rather than citing expert staff members — a move which the National Association of Science Writers labeled “unprofessional” and “unethical.”

All of this is part of the larger confrontational relationship with the press promoted by President Donald Trump, who consistently calls media “fake news” and has repeatedly encouraged violence against the media.

[ThinkProgress]

Kushner unsure whether he’d alert FBI if Russians request another meeting

On “Axios on HBO,” Jared Kushner said he doesn’t know whether he’d call the FBI if he were to receive an email today like the one before the campaign’s Trump Tower meeting, which had the subject line: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

  • Kushner said this after a tense exchange about the email he received to set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 

Why this matters: Kushner is now in the West Wing as senior adviser to the president. Shouldn’t an email with an offer of help from Russians trigger a mental alarm? This bolsters the perception that President Trump’s inner circle still doesn’t fully recognize the ongoing threat of Russian interference in American elections. 

  • Kushner’s response comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony that he would recommend that in the future, people contact the FBI if a foreign government offers campaign support.

What he’s saying: Kushner said people are being “self-righteous” and playing “Monday morning quarterback” by asking him why he didn’t call the FBI when he saw the email offering help for the Trump campaign from Russia.

  • “Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I’m running three companies, I’m helping run the campaign. I get an email that says show up at 4 instead of 3 to a meeting that I had been told about earlier that I didn’t know what the hell it was about.”

Asked if he’d call the FBI if it happened again, Kushner said: “I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious.”

[Axios]

Media

Trump’s Homeland Security purge claims another victim, head of citizenship agency

The latest head to roll in President Trump’s continued purge of top Homeland Security officials is that of Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trump asked for Cissna’s resignation, which he submitted Friday, according to an email Cissna sent to agency personnel. He’ll leave the agency on June 1.

While not known as a flamethrower, Cissna courted controversy as he sought to implement Trump’s policies during his tenure at Citizenship and Immigration Services. He pursued the administration’s stated goal of reducing immigration, both legal and illegal. Citizenship and Immigration Services is tasked with processing immigration benefits, citizenship and, in a new focus under the Trump administration, denaturalization.

Cissna had a brief moment in headlines last year when he edited the beginning of Citizenship and Immigration Services’ mission statement, “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants,” to eliminate the phrase “nation of immigrants.” He told his staff the change clarified the agency’s role in “lawful immigration.” The change was seen by some as forecasting an inward turn.

But he apparently lacked enough zeal to please some of Trump’s hard-line advisors on immigration issues, leading to his ouster.

In his exit announcement, Cissna repeatedly emphasized the “rule of law,” writing that his 20-month tenure “laid the groundwork for many more, much-needed, lawful reforms to come in the near future.” He also hinted at the current upheaval at Homeland Security, describing his tenure as a “challenging time.”

“We are the government servants charged with lawfully, efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits, while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our nation’s values,” he wrote Friday in his email, obtained by The Times.

Underscoring the uncertainty at Homeland Security, the federal government’s third-largest department with roughly 240,000 employees, Cissna reportedly will be replaced by Ken Cuccinelli II — an immigration hardliner and cable news fixture whose name administration officials just days ago floated as a new “immigration czar.” Cuccinelli, however, has a strong enemy in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Neither McConnell’s office nor the White House responded to requests for comment.

In April, Trump forced out then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, naming Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan as her replacement. Nielsen spent her last days at the department announcing a cascade of exits for top officials, including U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles; Claire Grady, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary; and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ronald D. Vitiello.

The purge at Homeland Security began a few days before Nielsen’s removal, when Trump blindsided her and many other officials by abruptly pulling Vitiello’s nomination to lead ICE on a permanent basis. At first, White House aides told congressional staffers the withdrawal notification had been sent in error. Then Trump told reporters he wanted to go in a “tougher” direction on immigration enforcement. The president also surprised officials when he announced in early May his pick to replace Vitiello, Mark Morgan, a Border Patrol chief under President Obama.

In his confirmation hearings, Cissna — whose mother immigrated to the U.S. from Peru — told lawmakers that he spoke Spanish exclusively at home with his children, explaining, “the immigrant experience has always been a fundamental part of my family life.”

Under his tenure, Citizenship and Immigration Services has directed more resources to reducing a ballooning immigration-case backlog — more than 890,000 pending immigration cases, with an average wait of more than two years — sometimes at the expense of other missions.

At the border and across the country, agency officers interview asylum seekers to help determine whether their cases will proceed or whether they will be removed from the U.S. Cissna took officers who conduct citizenship interviews and reassigned them to the southern border to interview asylum seekers. In the last two years, wait times for citizenship have doubled.

In recent weeks, Citizenship and Immigration Services also has begun to train Border Patrol agents to conduct initial interviews that asylum seekers go through to determine whether they have what U.S. law defines as a “credible fear” of being persecuted in their home country. The moves gave new power to the Border Patrol and took some discretion away from Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers, part of an effort to toughen the process for people seeking asylum.

In March, Cissna announced that his agency would close all of its international offices and prepare to shift its foreign operations to the State Department in order to focus on the backlog. Citizenship and Immigration Services had worked abroad to reunite families, oversee international adoptions, and process requests for U.S. travel for humanitarian emergencies, military members serving overseas and permanent residents seeking to return.

Cissna has also overseen new “public charge” rules penalizing immigrants who use public benefits — and their U.S.-citizen children. Those proposed changes drew hundreds of thousands of public comments, which the agency is required by law to review. Stephen Miller, Trump’s domestic policy advisor and an immigration hardliner, has been frustrated with Cissna for what he viewed as foot-dragging on implementing the public charge rule and other proposals.

As near-record numbers of asylum seekers and Central American families continue to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump critics and supporters alike fear that Miller may not yet be through with a kind of hit list to “clean house” at Homeland Security. The department, created to ensure domestic security, has dozens of leadership vacancies, in addition to the handful of top officials serving in an acting capacity.

Cissna avoided the first round of firings after key Republican senators came to his defense.

McConnell has made clear he will block Cuccinelli from any position requiring Senate confirmation.

In 2014, Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, backed an effort to defeat GOP Senate incumbents and called for McConnell to step down. He also sought to peel delegates away from Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016, even throwing his ID badge on the convention floor to protest Trump’s nomination. At the time, he was working on behalf of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

In announcing in March that USCIS would close its international offices, Cissna wrote in a memo to agency staffers obtained by The Times: “Change can be difficult and can cause consternation.”

[Los Angeles Times]

White House Aide Hogan Gidley Vouched For Trump’s Composure During Pelosi Meeting Despite Not Attending

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley vouched for President Donald Trump‘s composure during a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week where the president stormed out, despite the fact that Gidley did not attend the meeting.

During an event in the Roosevelt Room yesterday, Trump tried to prove that he was calm during the meeting by asking the staffers that attended “what was my attitude yesterday at the meeting?”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted there was “no temper tantrum” and White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow claimed there was that the president was “very calm,” while Gidley also insisted the president was level-headed Pelosi even though he was not among the president’s staff included in the meeting.

“Were you there, Hogan? You know about it,” Trump went on to ask.

“I’ve seen the first one, Mr. President. That accusation that you pounded your fists — and I’ll be honest, you have every right to do that. We face a crisis on the southern border and they’ve done nothing,” Gidley replied. “You laid out the case to them, and they refused to work with you.”

However, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Gidley was not in the room for the meeting.

The Roosevelt Room event was supposed to focus on trade deals and the impacts they are having on American farmers, but the president used the opportunity to rant about Democrats’ continued interest in Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller probe.

“They’re a do-nothing group of people. The Democrats have done nothing other than to obstruct. They’re obstructing this country,” Trump said. “The Democrats have done nothing in the House, they’ve done absolutely nothing — I mean other than investigate. They want to investigate.”

Yesterday, Pelosi told reporters during her weekly presser that “the president’s behavior, as far as his obstruction of justice, the things that he is doing, it’s in plain sight, it cannot be denied — ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice.”

She also called Trump’s abrupt exit from their White House meeting on Wednesday a “stunt,” adding that he “stormed out” and threw “another temper tantrum.”

“I pray for the president of the United States,” Pelosi said. “I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.”

[Mediaite]

‘Oreo?’ Housing Secretary Ben Carson confuses real estate term for a cookie

An REO is not “milk’s favorite cookie.”

But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson thought the foreclosure-related real estate acronym, which means “real estate owned,” was the cream-filled chocolate cookie when grilled by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., on Tuesday during a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

REO is property that’s been turned over to a lender — whether that’s the bank or a government agency — after a foreclosure process is complete.

Porter wanted to know about the high rate of foreclosures on homes insured by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which Carson’s agency oversees.

“Do you know what an REO is?” Porter asked.

“Oreo?” a perplexed Carson answered.

“REO,” Porter repeated. “No, not an Oreo. An R-E-O.”

“Real estate?” Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, guessed. Then Porter to asked him what the “O” meant.

“The organization,” he replied.

Porter, who previously worked as a mortgage-settlement official in California, then explained the term to him.

“That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure,” she said. “We call it an REO. And FHA loans have much higher REOs — that means they go to foreclosure rather than loss-mitigation or to non-foreclosure alternatives such as short sales — than comparable loans at the GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises).”

Porter then needled Carson in a tweet after the hearing.

“I asked @SecretaryCarson about REOs — a basic term related to foreclosure — at a hearing today. He thought I was referring to a chocolate sandwich cookie. No, really,” she wrote.

Carson took the flub in jest and tweeted a picture of a pack of Oreos and a note to send to Porter.

“OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!” he tweeted.

The official Oreo Twitter account jokingly responded to the moment with its own acronym for REO, which drew swift blowback from other users who called it insensitive.

Carson also had a moment of confusion during the hearing when Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, asked him if he was familiar with OMWI, the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

Carson asked, “With who?”

“OMWI,” Beatty repeated.

“Amway?” Carson asked.

However, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., later interjected at the hearing and noted that OMWI is not part of HUD — it’s part of the Treasury Department.

“I just want to point out the reason why you wouldn’t recognize the term OMWI in HUD is that HUD doesn’t have OMWI,” Zeldin said to Carson.

[NBC News]

Barr Defends Trump’s Attacks on Mueller Probe: If Falsely Accused, I Would Call It a ‘Witch Hunt’

Attorney General Bill Barr said during his confirmation hearings that he doesn’t personally believe Robert Mueller “would be involved in a witch hunt.” He has since said it’s understandable why President Donald Trump would express that frustration.

In his Fox News interview today, Barr was asked by Bill Hemmer if he agrees with the “witch hunt” label.

“He was saying he was innocent and that he was being falsely accused,” Barr said. “And if you’re falsely accused, you would think that something was a witch hunt.”

He said for two and a half years Trump’s been hammered for allegedly “conspiring with the Russians, and we now know that was simply false.”

Hemmer asked again if he’s comfortable with the “witch hunt” label personally. Barr said, “I use what words I use… but I think if I had been falsely accused I’d be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.”

[Mediaite]

Trump says Mulvaney had ‘no right’ if he cast doubt on infrastructure talks

President Donald Trump expressed frustrations against his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, for questioning the prospects of striking a deal with Democrats on an infrastructure plan, placing doubt on whether Mulvaney actually criticized the plan even though his comments were captured on camera.

In a newly released clip of a Fox News interview airing Sunday, Trump was asked whether he still wants to pursue a large infrastructure plan with Democrats even though Mulvaney threw cold water on the idea.

“Yeah, if Mick Mulvaney said that, then he has no right to say that. He tells me he didn’t say that and he didn’t mean it. He said it’s going to be hard to finance,” the President told “The Next Revolution” host Steve Hilton.

However, despite the President’s claim that Mulvaney hadn’t cast doubts on the plan, he did so on camera last month.

“Is this a real negotiation? I think it remains to be seen,” Mulvaney said at the Milken Institute in Beverly Hills referring to the infrastructure deal, adding, “I think there’s a much better chance of getting NAFTA passed than getting an infrastructure deal passed.”

The comment came as Democrats met with Trump and administration officials at the White House to discuss a potential infrastructure plan. Both parties suggested the meeting went well, but there hasn’t been much news on where the negotiations will go next.

Pressed further during the Fox News interview whether he’d still like to pursue an infrastructure plan with Democrats, Trump said he does want to move forward, but worried about raising taxes.

“I do, but I also think we’re being played by the Democrats a little bit,” he said.
“You know, I think what they want me to do is say, ‘well what we’ll do is raise taxes, and we’ll do this and this and this,’ and then they’ll have a news conference — see, Trump wants to raise taxes. So it’s a little bit of a game.”

[CNN]

Reality

Watch Mick Mulvaney say the thing Trump claimed he never said.

IVANKA TRUMP TWEETS, THEN DELETES, PHOTO WITH ‘NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY’ DOCUMENT

First daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself with World Bank President David Malpass, with the cover of a document titled “National Security Strategy” visible in the image. She subsequently deleted and then reposted the photograph with that document cropped out, raising questions about why she did that.

Trump on Sunday night tweeted the photo showing her and Malpass, full body, with the cover of the national security strategy document on a small table in the foreground.

“Great catching up with my friend @WorldBank President David Malpass and discussing the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi),” she wrote in the tweet.

On Thursday afternoon, journalist Luke O’Neil noted on Twitter that Trump had since deleted the post. O’Neil shared screenshots of the post before the first daughter deleted it, including one zoomed in on the national security strategy document.

“I literally do not know for sure if that is bad but it seems like it?” O’Neil continued to tweet. “As I said I don’t know if it’s bad or not fact she deleted it just made me think so. It’s not top secret material or anything just weird that she’s talking about it with the world bank unless it isn’t.”

O’Neil then included a screenshot of the same image still live on Trump’s Instagram story and concluded, “Anyway not my problem.”

Hours later on Thursday, Trump reposted the photo with the same caption but cropped it to remove everything below her waist, thus cutting out the national security strategy document from the image.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Newsweek on Friday.

Journalist Vicky Ward, author of the recently released Kushner Inc., which is about Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, told Newsweek on Friday that such “impulsiveness” by Trump “is exactly what drove General Kelly to distraction,” she said, referring to former White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly.

Kelly, who stepped down from that position at the beginning of 2019, was asked during an interview Tuesday at the SALT Conference in Las Vegas if it was complicated to have President Donald Trump’s family working in the government.

“They were an influence that has to be dealt with,” replied Kelly, without naming Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner, the only members of the president’s family working in the West Wing.

Ward said that Ivanka Trump “can’t be bothered with rules—which is why Kelly—and former White House counsel Don McGahn wrote a note to the file about the Ivanka’s and Jared’s security clearances, because normal vetting procedures showed they should not have them.

“What’s more important to the White House senior adviser? Reading a manual on U.S. national security strategy and carefully following its guidelines (which might suggest/demand you rid yourself of business conflicts)—or putting it on a coffee table to impress visitors?” asked Ward.

[Newsweek]

White House celebrates the Red ‘Socks’ for winning the ‘World Cup Series’

That’s an error.

White House officials misspelled the name of the Red Sox in an announcement about the 2018 World Series championship team visiting Washington to meet with President Trump on Thursday, before declaring them the “World Cup Series” champions in a separate e-mail sent afterward.

On a page listing upcoming “Live” events to be streamed online from the White House, the announcement about the team’s arrival called the team the “Socks,” instead of Sox.

“President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions The Boston Red Socks to the White House,” the statement read.

The announcement leads to the White House’s official YouTube page, where the event will be broadcast. The name of the team was also spelled wrong on that page.

Unfortunately for the White House, that wasn’t the only gaffe involving the Boston team. After the ceremony was over, the White House sent a transcript of the event to pool reporters with a subject line that said Trump welcomed the “World Cup Series” champions.

“Remarks by President Trump Welcoming the 2018 World Cup Series Champions Boston Red Sox,” the e-mail’s subject line proclaimed.

A copy of the statement was also posted to the White House website.

Members of the championship team met with Trump on Thursday afternoon for the Rose Garden ceremony — but not everyone was in attendance.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said earlier this week, while in Chicago, that he wouldn’t be making the visit when the team is honored at the White House.

Cora said the trip wouldn’t feel right given what he considers the Trump administration’s poor treatment of his native Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Among those who are not attending the White House visit are Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, David Price, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez, and Hector Velazquez.

The pending visit has become what Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy called “a difficult issue.”

A majority of the players who have pledged to visit Trump are white, while those who have said they will forgo the trip are people of color, the Globe has previously reported.

The trip is optional for the team and members of the clubhouse and staff. Red Sox owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, and team chairman Tom Werner have said they would attend.

[Boston Globe]

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