Trump-appointed Pentagon employee resigns hours after CNN reveals ‘birther’ posts on his social media

A Trump-appointed Department of Defense staffer has resigned from his post after CNN revealed he made posts claiming former President Barack Obama was not really an American.

CNN’s KFILE reported that as of Tuesday morning, when reporters Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott inquired about posts he’d made on social media, DoD employee Todd Johnson was still a Pentagon employee. Soon after, however, his previously-public Facebook profile was set to private, and by the afternoon, the Pentagon confirmed that he had tendered his resignation and it had been accepted.

Until resigning, Johnson was an advance officer, a Pentagon employee tasked with the “sensitive” job of “providing logistical support related to the secretary’s events and appearances domestically and abroad,” CNN noted. The report also said that Johnson was on the GS-14 pay scale, which is “typically reserved for senior civil service positions.”

KFILE’s review of Johnson’s Facebook before his privacy settings were changed found that after he was appointed in 2017, he made attempts to tamp down political commentary on his profile and asked his friends not to tag him in posts that could affect his job. Nevertheless, Kacynski and McDermott discovered public posts from during the 2016 election cycle that shared beliefs “popular in mainstream conservative circles.” He also shared posts from 2012 and beyond that indicated he believed Obama was not born on American soil and that he thought the former president was the Antichrist.

In July 2012, Johnson first posted a video titled “Michelle Obama admits Barack Obama’s home country is Kenya,” and another that cited a phony Biblical claim that the 44th president is demonic.

In 2013, one of Johnson’s Facebook friends erroneously claimed Obama was a Muslim, which “automatically makes him crazy.”

“Yes sir,” Johnson replied.

During his time at the Pentagon, Johnson posted photos of him at work, which included travel with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and an on-stage encounter with the president.

[Raw Story]

Trump’s EPA chief Scott Pruitt caught living in prime DC condo owned by top energy lobbyist’s wife

President Donald Trump’s environmental chief has been living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt occupies the home a short distance from the U.S. Capitol, but neither the agency or lobbyist J. Steven Hart would say how much the Trump administration official has been paying to live in the prime location, reported ABC News.

The cost of the rental agreement will be a key question in determining whether the property is an improper gift, according to ethics experts.

Hart confirmed to ABC News that Pruitt lived in the condo, which is owned through a limited liability company that links to address owned by the lobbyist and his wife Vicki Hart — who is a lobbyist specializing in health care.

The Harts were described in 2010 by the newspaper Roll Call as a “lobbyist power couple.”

Steven Hart, chairman and CEO of Williams and Jensen, previously served in the Reagan Justice Department and is a top Republican fundraiser, and his firm reported more than $16 million in federal lobbying income last year.

“Among his many clients are the NRA and Cheniere Energy Inc., which reported paying Hart’s firm $80,000 a year,” ABC News reported.

[Raw Story]

Jackson vouching for Trump’s health on TV helped him get VA job

White House physician Ronny Jackson’s performance during an extended grilling over President Donald Trump’s health and cognitive fitness played a part in his nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs, a White House official told CNN Wednesday.

The official said Trump liked the way Jackson handled himself with reporters during the briefing in January.

Trump’s selection of Jackson, his personal physician, to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin immediately raised questions about Jackson’s experience and qualifications, according to multiple veterans groups and Capitol Hill sources.

Asked how Jackson is qualified to oversee medical care for US veterans, the White House official noted Jackson brings with him both a medical and military background to the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as past praise for his work in previous administrations.

The decision to nominate Jackson to run the government’s second largest department surprised members of Congress, veteran advocacy groups and officials within the department, the sources told CNN.

Representatives from groups and lawmakers openly questioned whether Jackson had the right experience to run the sprawling agency, despite his military and medical background.

“I have no idea what to expect from him, quite frankly,” Vietnam Veterans of America president John Rowan told CNN, adding that he was disappointed that the President had removed Shulkin, but he also expressed some relief at the pick, adding that it could have been worse.

“We were hoping that we prevailed, but at least he isn’t appointing one of those rabid privatization people, so that’s a plus,” Rowan said.

A source told CNN in January that Trump liked Jackson’s performance in the briefing room answering questions about his presidential physical. At the White House briefing, Jackson vouched for Trump’s neurological function, pronounced him in “excellent” health and attributed part of the positive health assessment to good genetics.

Trump’s positive impression of the military doctor had staying power, with Trump praising Jackson to donors during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in February.

“He’s like central casting — like a Hollywood star,” Trump said, according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained by CNN.

And last Friday, the Pentagon announced Trump had nominated Jackson for a promotion from rear admiral (lower half) to rear admiral (upper half). A senior White House official told CNN after Trump announced his selection of Jackson for the VA post that Jackson would resign his commission and retire from active duty before being confirmed.

[CNN]

Trump to hire diGenova, who argued FBI framed president

President Trump is adding a lawyer to his legal team who has endorsed the idea that the Justice Department framed him, according to a report in The New York Times.

Trump plans to hire longtime Washington lawyer Joseph diGenova, the Times wrote, citing three people told of the decision. It said he is unlikely to take a lead role on the team, but that he would add an aggressive presence.

The president is increasingly signaling he intends to go in a different direction with his legal strategy, and this weekend began attacking by name special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s lawyers had previously advised him not to attack Mueller.

Adding diGenova suggests Trump wants to go more on the offensive, given diGenova’s past statements arguing investigations of Trump are meritless.

“There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News in January.

“Make no mistake about it: A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime,” said diGenova, who was previously a Republican-appointed United States attorney for the District of Columbia.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that the Mueller probe should “never have been started.”

“There was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary [Clinton] and the [Democratic National Committee], and improperly used in [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” Trump tweeted.

On Monday, Trump again called the investigation a “witch hunt” and claimed it had “massive conflicts of interest.”

Trump’s lawyer John Dowd over the weekend also called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down Mueller’s Russia probe.

[The Hill]

Zinke criticized for ‘juvenile’ comment at hearing

Democrats rebuked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday for comments he made during a House budget hearing about planned cuts to grant programs that fund institutions focusing on the history of Japanese-Americans.

“The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke. What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Calif.) tweeted, sharing a clip of the exchange.

During the hearing, Zinke took a question from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), who told the Interior chief that she only recently learned of her family’s history at the hands of internment camp officials due to the issue not being discussed by Japanese-Americans.

“I believe it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so we don’t have them repeat again,” Hanabusa told Zinke.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said in response before answering Hanabusa’s question.

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ [good morning], but that’s OK,” Hanabusa said, following a brief silence.

In a tweet Thursday evening, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said the comment was offensive whether Zinke meant it to be or not.

“No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated b/c of race,” Chu wrote.

“Zinke’s comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner. Intentional or not, it’s offensive. He should apologize,” she added.

Thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties act, formally apologizing for the program and granting $20,000 in compensation to any Japanese-American interned during the war.

Zinke said during the hearing Thursday that he was committed to preserving history, and that the funding may have been caught up in other budget cuts.

The Interior Department has faced criticism for its budgets under the Trump administration, in particular Zinke’s plan to raise the fee for entering national parks.

[The Hill]

Media

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick for CIA director, ran a “black site” to torture prisoners

President Trump on Tuesday nominated CIA veteran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next director, tapping a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.

Haspel, 61, would become the first woman to lead the CIA if she is confirmed to succeed outgoing director Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to serve as secretary of state. Haspel’s selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency’s darkest chapters.

Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture.

When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.

Trump announced the move on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that Pompeo would move to the State Department and that Haspel would “become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, said Tuesday on his Twitter feed that Haspel is “quite literally a war criminal.”

But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signaled his support for Haspel. “I know Gina personally, and she has the right skill set, experience and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies,” he said. “I’m proud of her work and know that my committee will continue its positive relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency under her leadership. I look forward to supporting her nomination, ensuring its consideration without delay.”

Haspel spent much of her 33-year CIA career in undercover assignments overseas and at CIA headquarters, including serving as the agency’s top representative in London and as the acting head of its clandestine service in 2013.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials who have worked with Haspel praised her as an effective leader who could be expected to stand up to the pressures that Trump has often placed on spy agencies — including his denunciations of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Officials described Haspel as a consummate “insider” and said CIA employees would greet her appointment with some relief, because an intelligence veteran would be back in charge.

“The building will love the fact that she’s an insider,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior CIA officer.

Pompeo, a former member of Congress who spent his early career in business, had no profile in the intelligence community apart from his leading role on a congressional committee investigating the terrorist attacks on a U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya. Career CIA officers have seen Pompeo as one of the most overtly political directors in the agency’s history and a staunch public defender of the president.

Haspel, by contrast, has almost no public profile. But she is a visible presence inside CIA headquarters, running day-to-day operations while Pompeo handles the public-facing aspects of the job, making speeches and media appearances and meeting with the president.

“This is not someone who has sharp elbows, but she is a sharp competitor,” said a former senior intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss Haspel.

Rumors of Pompeo’s departure have flared up several times in recent months, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had often been mentioned as a leading replacement. Current intelligence officials reacted with alarm to that prospect. “Disastrous” is how one described a possible nomination of Cotton, who is widely seen as too political and inexperienced for the job.

Pompeo’s appointment inspired some of those same concerns, but he has been a staunch defender of the agency, and that has bolstered his credibility among career intelligence officers.

Pompeo also had a strong rapport with the president, a quality that always makes a director valuable to the rank-and-file. But it is not clear that Haspel has the same close relationship with Trump.

“She does bring continuity after Pompeo,” said the former senior intelligence official, noting the two were in accord on strengthening the agency’s counterterrorism operations. “The question is, how much juice does she have in the White House?”

Inside CIA, Haspel has advocated a more aggressive approach to overseas operations. She had also led the agency’s work on Russia, which could put her at odds with a president who has accused intelligence officials of trying to undermine his election by stating that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help get Trump elected.

Her extensive involvement in a covert program that used harrowing interrogation measures on al-Qaeda suspects resurfaced last year when she was named deputy director of the CIA after Trump had signaled as a presidential candidate that he would consider reestablishing agency prisons and resuming interrogation methods that President Obama had banned. Trump never followed through on that plan, which was opposed by senior members of his administration including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Haspel ran one of the first CIA black sites, a compound in Thailand code-named “Cat’s Eye,” where al-Qaeda suspects Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in 2002.

An exhaustive Senate report on the program described the frightening toll inflicted. At one point, the report said, Zubaida was left “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Internal CIA memos cited in a Senate report on the agency’s interrogation program described agency officials who witnessed the treatment as distraught and concerned about its legality. “Several on the team profoundly affected,” one agency employee wrote, “…some to the point of tears and choking up.”

Haspel later served as chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of dozens of videotapes made at the Thailand site.

Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Haspel “drafted a cable” ordering the tapes’ destruction in 2005 as the program came under mounting public scrutiny and that he then “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”

The Justice Department spent several years investigating alleged abuses in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes, but no charges were ever filed.

When she was named deputy CIA director last year, the agency took the unusual step of soliciting testimonials from seven former top intelligence and congressional officials. Their statements of support were included in the agency’s release. Former CIA director Michael Hayden described Haspel as “a trusted friend, lieutenant and guide to the sometimes opaque corridors of American espionage.”

Some believe she had been unfairly penalized for her role in counterterrorism operations that were launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and carried out with the legal approval of the Justice Department.

Haspel was passed over in 2013 for a permanent assignment as head of the CIA’s clandestine service, although agency officials said the decision was not driven by her connection to the prisons controversy.

[Washington Post]

Longtime Trump aide fired over financial crime investigation

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing told CNN.

The charges are not related to the President, the source said.

Minutes after news of his departure broke, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would be joining the reelection effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.

McEntee escorted from the White House on Monday, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Two sources said McEntee was pushed out because of issues with his security clearance, making him just the latest aide to be forced out because of difficulties obtaining a full security clearance.

McEntee declined a CNN request to comment.

“We do not comment on personnel issues,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN in a statement.

White House aides were stunned when they learned of McEntee’s sudden departure, two sources tell CNN. His abrupt firing came out of nowhere and there was no warning, they said.

McEntee was one of few aides who did not have their access to the President limited when John Kelly became the chief of staff last fall. He was a near-constant presence in the West Wing, and was one of a select group of staffers who were often summoned by the President to the White House residence. He regularly traveled with Trump, and was seen boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House as Trump headed for Pennsylvania on Saturday.

He was scheduled to travel to California with Trump on Tuesday, but then he was fired.
McEntee, who joined the Trump campaign in its first months, is the latest of the President’s longest-serving aides to leave or announce plans to leave the White House, following the resignation of White House communications direct Hope Hicks two weeks earlier.

McEntee served as Trump’s body man during the campaign and into the White House alongside the President’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, who left the White House last fall. The role meant McEntee was nearly constantly at the President’s side.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of his exit.

Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale announced McEntee’s hire alongside that of Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign spokesperson in 2016 who will join the 2020 campaign as a senior adviser.

“As we build out our operations for the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 reelection campaign, we are pleased to welcome back two outstanding members of our 2016 team,” Parscale said in a statement. “We need the help of proven leaders such as Katrina and John to promote the President’s growing portfolio of achievements across the country.”

McEntee is just the latest aide to leave the White House amid issues with his security clearance, after White House chief of staff John Kelly enacted a series of reforms following the scandal involving disgraced White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

Kelly sought to limit access to classified information for aides with longstanding interim security clearances and several aides have since left the White House after it became clear their applications for a full security clearances would not be approved.

[CNN]

Emails show Ben Carson and his wife were personally involved in buying $31,000 office furniture

Newly released emails show Ben Carson and his wife personally selected a $31,000 dining room set for his office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The liberal watchdog group American Oversight obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, and the documents cast doubt on HUD spokesman Raffi Williams’ denial that Carson had any involvement in selecting the furniture, reported CNN.

“Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” Willliams told CNN last month, when the story first broke. “The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

Carson himself blamed the purchase on an unnamed HUD staffer, and told CNN he was “surprised” by the $31,000 price tag and promised to cancel the order — which the company confirmed had happened on March 1.

“The secretary did not order a new table,” said Carson, the HUD secretary. “The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

But the newly released emails show two Carson aides discussed the dining set back in May 2017, when they asked about repairing the “fairly precarious” existing furniture, which would have cost an estimated $1,100 to fix.

Carson’s statement earlier this month confirmed he feared the old furniture was “unsafe” and “beyond repair.”

HUD’s scheduling office contacted Candy Carson, the secretary’s wife, in August to take part in the office redecorating, although the emails don’t show a response from her.

Carson said he and his wife were told there was a $25,000 budget that must be used by a deadline or it would be lost, and they received a $24,666 quote for the furniture.

“The career administration staffer sent the quote to Carson’s office,” CNN reported, “specifically Carson’s chief of staff and his executive assistant, casting further doubt on the agency’s assertion that the purchase was made entirely by career staff.”

The staffer told Carson the quote seemed to be reasonable and justified the purchase because the previous furniture was purchased in 1988, and receipts showed HUD moved forward with the purchase — which was now $7,000 higher — four months later.

One email chain shows serving cart options were approved by “leadership” but doesn’t specify who made the request.

That appears to contradict Williams’ sweeping denial that Carson and his wife had any involvement in the purchase process, or any interest in doing so.

Helen Foster, a senior career official at HUD, says she was demoted and replaced by a Trump appointee after refusing to break the law to approve the over-budget redecoration.

[Raw Story]

Trump HUD appointee spread conspiracy about Hillary Clinton’s satanic ritual

Joe Gibbs, one of President Trump’s appointees in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, spread the false rumor that Hillary Clinton is a Satanist during the 2016 election, CNN reports.

John Gibbs was a conservative commentator tapped to join HUD as the head of a program aimed at spurring economic development and now holds the title of senior adviser in the community planning and development division.

On Twitter, Gibbs used the “#spiritcooking” hashtag, helping spread the rumor that Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta participated in a Satanic ritual involving the consumption of bodily fluids. #Spiritcooking evolved into the better-known #pizzagate despite being debunked at every turn.

The tweets from Gibbs are archived on the Wayback Machine.

He also used the term “cucks” in a defense of Milo Yiannopoulos and defended anti-Semitic alt-right commenter Ricky Vaughn when he was banned from Twitter.

[RawStory]

Multiple White House employees — including one Melania aide — fired over security clearance issues

The White House has either fired or reassigned multiple employees over problems with their security clearances, according to ABC News.

According to ABC News’ sources, the list of fired or reassigned employees includes “at least one individual employed in the Office of the First Lady,” although the report does not go into detail about exactly whom has been let go.

In addition to the staffers that have already been fired, ABC News’ sources say that there is “a list of several other individuals with security clearance issues that are under consideration for possible termination or reassignment in the coming days.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly has reportedly been making lists of White House employees with security clearance problems in the wake of the debacle surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter, who was fired last month after it was revealed that he allegedly beat his two ex-wives.

Kelly has also downgraded the security clearance of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who can now no longer access top-secret classified information. Despite this, however, the president still sent Kushner to meet with Mexican officials as a diplomatic envoy on Wednesday.

[RawStory]

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