Trump says he will nominate Herman Cain to Fed

President Donald Trump said Thursday he will nominate Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate, to a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, a move surprising Capitol Hill and alarming Fed watchers.

“I’ve recommended Herman Cain. He’s a terrific man,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

“I think he would do very well” at the Fed, the president added. “He’s a very good guy.”

A report that Trump planned to nominate Cain was reported early Thursday morning by Axios.

Trump has previously said he will appoint former Wall Street Journal editorial writer Stephen Moore to the Fed, but the White House has yet to send the nomination to the Senate. Moore and Cain would fill the two remaining vacancies on the Fed’s seven-member board. Trump’s interest in selecting Cain for the Fed was first reported in January. The president remains sharply critical of the Fed’s interest-rate policy even thought the central bank has shifted in a dovish direction. 

Trump said he was not trying to send a message to the Fed with the pick of Moore and Cain.

[MarketWatch]

Trump’s Pick for Fed Board Criticized As a Pro-Trump Partisan Hack

Yet again President Donald Trump has named someone to a top government post based on a commitment to toe the Republican line—and more specifically, to echo Donald Trump—rather than on sound policy goals.

On Friday, Trump picked his former campaign adviser and CNN commentator Stephen Moore to fill a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors. Since then, it’s been difficult to find an actual expert in economics who thinks it’s a solid move.

Trump reportedly chose Moore, who was an economic pundit at Fox News before CNN recruited him, after the president was shown a March 13 op-ed Moore co-authored for The Wall Street Journal that echoed Trump’s criticisms of the Fed’s monetary policies, the Journal reported.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Fed Chairman Jerome Powell over interest-rate hikes by the central bank last year.

“The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!” Trump tweeted in December.

The same month, Moore said in an interview with the Journal that Powell should resign. “He’s totally incompetent,” Moore said. “If he’s not responsive to the president, then who’s he responsive to?”

book Moore co-authored with fellow Trump campaign adviser Arthur Laffer, called Trumponomics, was “over-the-top” in its “enthusiasm for U.S. President Donald Trump’s sketchy economic agenda,” Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw wrote.

Mankiw noted:

…Moore and Laffer apparently learned the importance of flattering the boss. In the first chapter alone, they tell us that Trump is a “gifted orator” who is always “dressed immaculately.” He is “shrewd,” “open-minded,” “no-nonsense,” and “bigger than life.” He is a “commonsense conservative” who welcomes “honest and fair-minded policy debates.” He is the “Mick Jagger of politics” with a contagious “enthusiasm and can-doism.”

Trump apparently was pleased, nominating Moore for a position that’s supposed to maintain a nonpartisan approach to policy. And the president, once again, has selected someone who hasn’t been thoroughly vetted, although he will need Senate confirmation.

Bloomberg reported the potential consequences of Trump’s pick:

Under the threat of constant second-guessing by the president, and potentially soon working with a Trump cheerleader inside the building, Fed officials may find it increasingly difficult to stay focused on keeping the institution at a distance from politics. That’s important because investors who purchase U.S. Treasuries trust the Fed to ignore the wishes of politicians and do what it thinks is best for the economy in the long run.

Some critics were a bit more direct:

In making the announcement (on Twitter, of course), Trump called Moore “a very respected economist.”

Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, added that Moore “is the latest in a long line of TV news pundits to catch the president’s eye and garner a nomination to a powerful federal post.” He noted that Moore was a harsh critic of the Obama administration, calling at the time for tight monetary policy. Yet with Trump in office, Moore now has the opposite opinion and is calling for loose monetary policy, citing nonexistent deflation. This cherry-picking of facts seems to be a trend with Moore, who also is a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Others strongly disagreed:

Reading between the lines, several observers already have pointed out that Trump’s move likely was made with a view to claiming a strong economy, at least on cable news shows, heading into the 2020 presidential election. It’s part of his “win at all costs” strategy to get re-elected.

That’s one way of putting it.

Here’s Moore in December 2017, arguing in favor of the Republican tax scam for corporations and billionaires. Moore said the plan would help middle-income Americans and small businesses:

[Splinter]

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 picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary

President Trump is picking David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, to be the Interior Department’s next secretary. “I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior,” Trump tweeted Monday. Bernhardt, whose past clients include oil companies and others with business before the Interior Department, will lead an agency that oversees about 500 million acres as well as the energy production on that land. He became the agency’s deputy secretary in 2017 and has led the department on an interim basis since former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned amid ethics scandals in January. In the weeks since Zinke’s departure, Bernhardt has risen to the top of the list as the most likely candidate Trump would choose for the post. “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” Trump will have to send Bernhardt’s nomination to the Senate, where a majority of senators will have to approved him. “It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President,” Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. The department has 70,000 employees in various agencies overseeing federal land, offshore drilling, endangered species and American Indian affairs, among other duties. As deputy secretary, Bernhardt, a Colorado native, worked hand in hand with Zinke on his oil and gas leasing agenda and took the lead on many others, including the administration’s push to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the rollback of a number of Endangered Species Act regulations. In the past he’s called the ESA an “unnecessary regulatory burden.” The rule proposal he helped roll out in July would make it easier to delist an endangered species and would withdraw a policy that offered the same protections for threatened species as for endangered species unless otherwise specified. Bernhardt has worked at Interior in various capacities, including solicitor during the George W. Bush administration. He has also had multiple stints at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, representing clients including Eni Petroleum, Sempra Energy, Halliburton Energy Services, Targa Energy, Noble Energy and the Westlands Water District. Under ethics standards, he has recused himself from matters involving so many former clients that he carries a card with him listing the recusals. Environmental groups immediately denounced Bernhardt’s nomination Monday. “The ethical questions surrounding David Bernhardt and his commitment to pandering to oil, coal, and gas executives make former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke look like a tree-hugging environmentalist in comparison. And Ryan Zinke was a disaster,” Vicky Wyatt, lead climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement. “We already let Bernhardt do enough damage to our federal lands and waters as deputy secretary —  we have to stop him before he destroys some of this country’s best ideas including the Endangered Species Act.” “David Bernhardt’s nomination is an affront to America’s parks and public lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group that has been vocally critical of the Trump administration. “As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife.” The industries Interior regulates have largely been supportive of Bernhardt. “We have always been supportive of acting Secretary Bernhardt. We supported his nomination and would support him if the president decides to nominate him to be secretary,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters Monday. “In these transitional phases, it’s important that we have strong political leadership, and I think he’s demonstrated that leadership in his time as acting secretary.” Supporters say Bernhardt’s agenda on fossil fuels would likely continue in the same vein as Zinke. “Bernhardt possesses an impressive depth of experience at the Department and knowledge of Interior issues. His selection as secretary will assure that important energy and conservation policies will not miss a beat in the transition,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore oil and wind companies.

“Bernhardt understands that conservation and enhancement of natural resources can and does occur in conjunction with development of natural resources for energy — both on and offshore,” he said. Bernhardt’s nomination will go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an initial hearing, and then a vote before the full Senate. That panel’s leaders, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both voted to confirm him to the deputy secretary position in 2017. Only three other Democrats — Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — voted for him, and Heitkamp and Donnelly lost reelection last year. Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats, so Bernhardt’s confirmation is likely to go through. One of the most recent controversies surrounding Bernhardt involved the recent partial government shutdown, which furloughed most of Interior’s workforce. He drew criticism after announcing the National Park Service would pull from their entrance fee revenue coffers in order to pay for the clean-up and maintenance of parks left up to the public during the shutdown. “We must provide opportunities for people to access and enjoy our wonderful parks, and we must do so in a way that ensures the same opportunity for future generations to enjoy,” he wrote. Environmentalists, park rangers and politicians alike questioned the legality of the move under the National Park Service Organic and Antideficiency Acts, the main pieces of legislation that govern federal parks and shutdown procedures respectively. The NPS is currently conducting a legal review of that decision. Bernhardt also was criticized for bringing certain furloughed workers back to work on oil and natural gas drilling permits, offshore drilling and drilling in the Alaska refuge. The House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for Interior, led by Chairwoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), will hold a hearing this week on the work that Interior did during the shutdown and whether it was legal. Bernhardt floated to the top of a crowded field of potential replacements for Zinke. The candidates included many current or former Republican politicians, according to people familiar with the process, such as ex-Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ex-Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) and ex-Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

[The Hill]

Trump nominates World Bank critic as its next chief

President Trump on Wednesday said he would nominate David Malpass, the Treasury Department undersecretary for international affairs and a critic of the modern development finance system, to be next president of the World Bank.

If approved by the World Bank’s board of directors, Malpass would lead the international lender’s efforts to fund economic development projects in poor and middling countries.

Malpass, the administration’s financial development ambassador, was among Trump’s top candidates and an early favorite to replace outgoing World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who announced last month he’d be leaving the bank before his term expires.

Trump hailed Malpass as “highly respected, brilliant” and a “very special man” during a Wednesday news conference at the White House announcing his nomination. Politico, followed by other media outlets, first reported Trump’s decision to pick Malpass on Monday.

“I knew that David was the right person to take this very important job,” Trump said, adding there was “no better candidate” to lead the World Bank.

Malpass has more than four decades of financial policy experience in the federal government and private sector. He previously served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and as chief economist for the now-defunct investment titan Bear Stearns.

The U.S. is the largest shareholder among the more 170 countries that pool their resources for the World Bank and has chosen each of its presidents since the lender opened in 1945. But Malpass’ fierce criticism of the World Bank and similar institutions could spark a fight over the bank’s future and end that precedent.

Malpass has argued that “globalism and multilateralism have gone substantially too far,” and said international lenders like the World Bank failed to accomplish their goals.

“They spend a lot of money. They are not very efficient. They are often corrupt in their lending practices, and they don’t get the benefit to the actual people in the countries,” Malpass told the House Financial Services Committee at 2017 hearing. “They get the benefit to the people that fly in on a first-class airplane ticket to give advice to the government officials.”

Malpass’s defenders say his critical eye will help bring sorely needed reforms to the World Bank. In a Wednesday telephone briefing with reporters, a senior administration official called Malpass “a happy warrior and champion of pro-growth policies.”

“The goal is the ensure that these institutions serve their targets, in this case developing countries,” the official said. “Sometime that requires real reform.”

[The Hill]

Trump’s pick to chair new climate panel once said CO2 has been maligned like “Jews under Hitler”

The Pentagon and several federal agencies have repeatedly warned over the years that climate change is a threat to national security. Yet the White House is reportedly convening a panel to question it anew.

The Washington Post, citing a National Security Council (NSC) discussion paper it obtained, reports that White House staff are preparing an executive order for President Donald Trump’s signature that would establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Security to be chaired by a notorious climate change denier.

That man, NSC senior director William Happer, argued on CNBC in 2014 that “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

John Whitehouse of Media Matters dredged up the video

Happer’s views have gotten no less extreme since then. When he was under consideration for the role of Trump’s science adviser in early 2017, Happer sent an email to a Jezebel reader asserting that the “demonization of CO2” “really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.”

Media Matters has previously detailed how Happer, a retired Princeton professor who is not trained as a climate scientist, has tried — unsuccessfully — to conceal the fact that oil interests have directly funded his “research.” And as a recent paper in Nature Climate Change noted, the fossil fuel industry has long been involved in campaigns in US politics “aiming to refute, confuse and obstruct acceptance of the reality of climate change,” using scientists just like Happer to spread misinformation.

The Trump administration keeps trying to muddy the waters about climate science

The Post’s report about the White House’s new panel is the latest indication that the Trump administration is trying to actively mislead the public on the well-established science of climate change.

As Vox’s Umair Irfan and Alex Ward have reported, many agencies in the executive branch of Trump’s own government have been warning the president and the American people of the severe threats of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” according to the National Climate Assessment, released in November.

Asked about the National Climate Assessment by a reporter in November, Trump flatly said, “I don’t believe it.”

Last month, the Pentagon released a report detailing the national security threatposed by climate change. Weeks later, the intelligence community released its annual consensus World Threat Assessment. The document echoes the Pentagon’s finding that climate change is a major threat:

Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.

The NSC discussion paper obtained by the Post about the new panel suggests it would be created with an eye toward muddying the waters about the Pentagon and intelligence community’s findings. Though the paper acknowledges that a number of federal government reports have concluded climate change is a major threat, it goes on to claim “these scientific and national security judgments have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.”

Given Happer’s views, there’s little doubt that he’ll indulge Trump if he wants to use the panel to deny the well-established science of climate change. In doing so, the consequences are grave: He’d further imperil the United States and future generations everywhere.

[Vox]

Draft-dodger Trump says he ‘would have been a good general’ while trashing James Mattis in Cabinet meeting rant

President Donald Trump ended former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ tenure as defense secretary right before the New Year, seemingly in retaliation for a letter Mattis published criticizing President Trump’s global policy.

At a cabinet meeting Wednesday, the President lashed out at Mattis.

“What’s he done for me? How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good,” Trump said.

“As you know, president Obama fired him, and essentially so did I,” he added. In fact, general Mattis tendered his resignation after Trump announced the hasty withdrawal of troops from Syria. The President has since said he would slow the troop withdrawal.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” the President added

[Raw Story]

 

Dow Jones plunges after Mnuchin comments; Trump doubles down on attacks on Fed

The Dow Jones Industrial Average continued plummeting Monday — in a history-making session — after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shocked investors worldwide over the weekend by tweeting that he had spoken unprompted to the CEOs of the six largest U.S. banks to ensure they were liquid. It was the worst Christmas Eve trading session in U.S. history, experts said.

The Dow ended the day a dramatic 653 points lower at 21,792 in an abbreviated trading session ahead of the Christmas holiday. That’s a decrease of 2.9 percent, adding to last week’s fall of 6.8 percent.

“I do believe this was the worst Dec.24 in history,” U.S. Global Investors head trader Michael Matousek told ABC News. “There hasn’t been a worse Christmas Eve since I started in the industry 22 years ago.”

Last week was the index’s worst in 10 years — since the 2008 financial crisis. This month is currently on track to end as the worst December since the Great Depression.

The tech-heavy NASDAQ was also crushed, ending the day more than 5 percent lower at 6,193. It crossed into bear territory last week for the first time since the 2008 recession, which means it is down more than 20 percent from its record high on Aug. 29.

Over the weekend, Mnuchin tweeted that he called the CEOs of J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and Citigroup from his vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. His agency is one of the federal departments affected by the current government shutdown. Others at Treasury are forced to say home without pay. It is unclear whether Mnuchin traveled on a government plane to his vacation.

The bank executives assured the Secretary that “they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations,” Mnuchin wrote.

“They have not experienced any clearance or margin issues and that the markets continue to function properly,” he added.

Mnuchin’s comments seem to have been meant to assuage investors, economists and traders that there would not be a run on banks, which precipitated the last crisis.

However, the message may have had the opposite effect since it was not a concern of market watchers until his tweet.

“If this weren’t the end of December, I would have thought it was April Fools,” Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, told The Washington Post. “The markets are already nervous enough. It’s like sending out a message saying our space shields can intercept incoming asteroids. Uh, I didn’t know there were any coming our way.”

Market watchers who were generally upbeat about the economy expressed concern over the panic that Mnuchin’s comments, coupled with the overall instability at the White House, could inflame.

“My guess is the Mnuchin was under pressure from Trump to ‘do something’ and this half-baked attempt to calm markets is the result,” Timothy Duy, economics professor at The University of Oregon and author of the influential Fed Watch blog, wrote to ABC News in an email.

“Mnuchin apparently thought (this is speculation of course) that easing fears of a financial crisis could help the stock market. But that is not a serious fear at this point,” Duy said, adding that traders are spooked by the trade wars, policy uncertainty and an economy that is slowing as many experts expected.

“Mnuchin raised a fear that really isn’t a current issue, and by doing so creates the perception that he knows of a problem that no one else knows about,” Duy added. “That kind of thing can precipitate a financial crisis because, fearing the unknown, market participants stop buying anything and financial institutions stop lending to each other.”

Many experts noted that the panic caused by the Treasury Secretary’s comments may cause a run on banks, which were a large factor in the Great Depression. It is widely believed, however, the banks are fine.

“A run on the banks is when people are afraid money won’t be liquid, so they start withdrawing money, like Lehman Brothers, so they had to go to the Fed for extra cash, which is essentially a bailout,” Matousek said.

“There’s a difference between now and then because we didn’t have stress testing like we do now,” Matousek added. “We have so much stress testing, they’re so regulated, when I saw he was calling the banks, that just tells me the administration is a little unsure of what’s going on.”

Duy added that even though Mnuchin’s comments were highly unusual, “it is widely believed that Mnuchin’s actions were so poorly conceived that they can’t be taken seriously. But they were so poorly conceived that they imply a worrisome lack of competence for economic policymaking as a whole, and that creates uncertainty that undermines investor confidence.”

[ABC News]

Trump, Angry Over Mattis’s Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early

President Trump said on Sunday that he would remove Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who issued a stinging rebuke of the president when he announced his resignation last week, from his post by Jan. 1, two months before he had planned to depart.

Mr. Trump, in a Twitter post, said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy, would serve as the acting defense secretary.

Aides said that the president was furious that Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter — in which he rebuked the president’s rejection of international allies and his failure to check authoritarian governments — had led to days of negative news coverage. Mr. Mattis resigned in large part over Mr. Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw American forces from Syria.

When Mr. Trump first announced that Mr. Mattis was leaving, effective Feb. 28, he praised the defense secretary on Twitter, saying he was retiring “with distinction.” One aide said that although Mr. Trump had already seen the resignation letter when he praised Mr. Mattis, the president did not understand just how forceful a rejection of his strategy Mr. Mattis had issued.

The president has grown increasingly angry as the days have passed, the aide said. On Saturday, Mr. Trump posted a tweet that took a jab at Mr. Mattis, saying that “when President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should.”

Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star general, led the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, from 2010 to 2013. His tour there was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran.

Mr. Shanahan, who, like Mr. Mattis, is from Washington State, is a former Boeing executive. Aides say that Mr. Trump likes him in part because he often tells the president that he is correct to complain about the expense of defense systems.

[The New York Times]

Whitaker rejected ethics official’s advice he should recuse from Russia probe

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker disregarded the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to step aside from overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Whitaker never sought a formal recommendation about whether he needed to recuse, but he received guidance on his options and the applicable rules during three meetings with ethics officials and multiple discussions with his own advisers, according to a senior department source and a letter from the Justice Department to CongressThursday night.

The decision to make was Whitaker’s alone and came the same day news emerged that Trump’s nominee to take the permanent job, Bill Barr, wrote the Justice Department last year to argue against the Mueller investigation, raising concerns on Capitol Hill that the President is selecting leaders based on their alignment with his critical view of the Russia probe and will seek to undercut the special counsel.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Mueller investigation in favor of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — to the constant annoyance of President Donald Trump — because Sessions had been an active participant on the Trump campaign.

Some of Whitaker’s comments about Mueller in 2017 mirrored Trump’s complaints. In one instance, speaking on the “Rose Unplugged” radio program in August 2017, Whitaker said the appointment of Mueller was “ridiculous” and it “smells a little fishy.”
“For whatever reason, Rod Rosenstein determined that the Department of Justice couldn’t handle this in their ordinary course of work, which I think was ridiculous,” Whitaker said. “So I think it smells a little fishy, but I just hope it doesn’t turn into a fishing expedition, because I will be one of [the people] jumping up and down making sure the limitations on this investigation continue because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

While ethics officials said there was no legal conflict of interest that would bar Whitaker from overseeing Mueller, the Justice Department letter states, it could look bad in the eyes of the public.

“If a recommendation were sought” from ethics officials, the letter states, “they would advise that the Acting Attorney General should recuse himself from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation because it was their view that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question the impartiality of the Acting Attorney General.”

While the process was ongoing, Whitaker was never briefed on the Mueller investigation, the senior Justice source told CNN. But Whitaker was given a heads up that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen would plead guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow before it was publicly announced.

It is expected he will be briefed as acting attorney general now that he has stated his position on recusal.

Rosenstein’s office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis, as CNN has previously reported.

[CNN]

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