Former staffer: EPA fired him for refusing to OK first-class flight

A former top EPA staffer has told Democratic lawmakers that the agency fired him after he refused to retroactively approve the first-class travel of one of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s closest aides, according to letters made public Thursday.

The dismissed political appointee, Kevin Chmielewski, also alleged that Pruitt flouted price limits on hotel stays and office decor, put an aide to work house-hunting for him, arranged taxpayer-funded trips to his native Oklahoma and other destinations just because he wanted to travel there and lied last week when he denied knowing about backdoor raises the agency had granted to two of his top aides, the lawmakers said Thursday in a letter to the agency.

In addition, Chmielewski detailed allegations of lavish spending on Pruitt’s personal security and a possible conflict of interest involving his top bodyguard, as well a $100,000-per-month private jet rental that he says EPA looked into at Pruitt’s direction. He also said, as POLITICO reported last week, that Pruitt was frequently late in paying the $50-a-night rent on his lobbyist-owned Capitol Hill condo last year.

The lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), separately wrote to President Donald Trump and urged him to rethink his public support for the embattled EPA chief.

“… [I]t appears you may not have received all the facts surrounding Administrator Pruitt’s spending, security arrangements, travel, living arrangements, and personnel actions, among other things,” they wrote.

Carper and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) separately asked EPA’s inspector general on Thursday to look into Pruitt’s alleged use of four different email accounts at EPA, and whether federal record-keeping laws were followed.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to specifically dispute the allegations from Chmielewski outlined in the letter, saying the agency would respond to the lawmakers “through the proper channel.” When Chmielewski’s dismissal was first reported last week, Wilcox called him one of “a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned.”

Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, was EPA’s deputy chief of staff for operations and handled many of Pruitt’s travel and logistics coordination. He has emerged as the best-known internal agency critic of Pruitt’s lavish spending and other practices, which have led lawmakers of both parties — and key White House aides — to push for the administrator’s firing.

Among his specific charges, Chmielewski told the lawmakers this week that Pruitt had requested that his aide Samantha Dravis, the head of EPA’s Office of Policy, join him in first class on a return flight from Morocco in December, where Pruitt had gone to promote U.S. natural gas.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers he refused to sign paperwork justifying Dravis’ first-class travel “because it violated federal travel regulations,” the Democrats wrote. He said another EPA staffer eventually signed off on the travel retroactively.

Chmielewski said his refusal to bless Dravis’ upgraded travel “appears to him to have been the final straw that caused you to remove him,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt. Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, subsequently informed Chmielewski that Pruitt “wished to fire or reassign him,” they wrote.

Dravis disputed Chmielewski’s allegations, telling POLITICO that she never spoke with him about the upgrade approval, that she did not request the upgrade and that it was not approved retroactively. Dravis said she flew coach for three of the four legs of the trip, and was upgraded to business class for one of them in keeping with federal regulations about travel exceeding 14 hours.

Democrats and environmental groups have questioned the entire purpose of the Morocco trip, noting that EPA’s mission doesn’t include promoting U.S. natural gas exports. Energy Secretary Rick Perry declined to weigh in on that issue at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, saying it would be “a little inappropriate for me to be making a public or private observation” about whether Pruitt’s trip was justified.

Chmielewski also disputed Pruitt’s statement last week to Fox News that he did not know about raises that two of his aides, who had accompanied him to EPA from Oklahoma, received despite the White House’s disapproval. Pruitt told Fox that the raises were entirely carried out by unidentified staffers, and that he was correcting the matter after learning of it.

But Chmielewski said the raises were “100% Pruitt himself,” according to a quote included in the Democrats’ letter.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers that his dismissal came in February when the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Nino Perrotta, asked him to give up his government credentials when he returned to the agency after an unrelated overseas trip with Vice President Mike Pence.

According to the letter, Jackson told Chmielewski that Pruitt wanted him removed and one of the Oklahoma aides, Millan Hupp, promoted to his job and pay scale. Chmielewski said the White House would not approve of that arrangement, but that he later was removed and Hupp received the promotion and pay raise via special hiring authority in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Other allegations made by Chmielewski, according to the letters, include:

— Pruitt’s security detail has purchased bulletproof vests, weapons and biometric locks and new SUVs to transport Pruitt, as opposed to getting vehicles via the General Services Administration. Chmielewski also alleges EPA has awarded security contracts to at least one person who works at the private security firm run by Perrotta.

— Pruitt had Hupp search for housing during work hours.

— Pruitt spent more than the $5,000 legal limit to redecorate his office.

— EPA staff, at Pruitt’s direction, considered a $100,000-per month private jet rental for the administrator. Chmielewski “claimed he successfully prevented this from occurring, as it would have been far in excess of the total travel budget of the office,” the Democrats wrote.

— Pruitt allegedly sought to travel to certain destinations and would ask EPA staff to find official business there to justify the taxpayer-funded trips. Chmielewski also says Pruitt told staff to find official reasons for him to be in or near Oklahoma to spend long weekends at home there.

— Pruitt “frequently” stayed in pricey hotels that exceeded allowable per diem spending, and that while Pruitt was reimbursed even when costs went over a 300 percent cap for exceptional circumstances, his bodyguards sometimes were not.

— Pruitt declined to plan to stay at hotels recommended by U.S. embassies during two planned international trips, choosing instead “more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources.”

“The new information provided by Mr. Chmielewski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt in asking for more documents.

Besides Carper and Whitehouse, the letters were signed by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.).

[Politico]

White House staffer left email passwords on official stationery at bus stop

A White House staffer left the password to his encrypted email account at a bus stop in Washington, D.C., according to a new report.

Ryan McAvoy left his ProtonMail passwords and email address on a piece of White House stationery at a bus stop near the White House, The Intercept reported Saturday.

Someone reportedly found the piece of paper and turned it over to The Intercept, which said that it confirmed its authenticity. The aide, who works as a staff assistant in the White House, did not return The Intercept’s requests for comment.

House Intelligence Committee Democrats said Wednesday they are interested in filing a subpoena to see how Trump campaign officials used WhatsApp, a messaging service.

Democrats said they want to see how how senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and other campaign employees are using the messaging app and others such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Signal, Slack, Instagram and Snapchat on the encrypted networks.

The committee may consider adding ProtonMail to that list, The Intercept reported.

Last September, it was reported that six members of Trump’s administration used private email addresses while conducting government business.

President Trump and Republicans had attacked former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State, calling it reckless.

Democrats on the Intelligence panel released a memo on Wednesday to lay out their responsibilities in the Trump-Russia investigation, which Republican members have said is wrapping up. Democrats, meanwhile, have pledged to continue their investigation.

[The Hill]

Trump Reportedly Made Senior WH Staffers Sign Nondisclosure Agreements

It would appear that Donald Trump‘s habit of getting people to sign NDAs has continued into the White House.

Per The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus:

In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.

The nondisclosure agreements, said a person who signed the document, “were meant to be very similar to the ones that some of us signed during the campaign and during the transition. I remember the president saying, ‘Has everybody signed a confidentiality agreement like they did during the campaign or we had at Trump Tower?’ ”

These NDAs reportedly extend to beyond the end of Trump’s presidential term.

Marcus writes that she’s seen a draft of the agreement that would “expose violators to penalties of $10 million,” though apparently the final amount in the NDAs was not quite so large.

“This is so ridiculously excessive,” she says, “so laughably unconstitutional, that I doubted, when it first came my way, that anything like it was ever implemented — only to do some reporting and learn otherwise.”

There were reports of people signing NDAs during the Trump campaign period, and, of course, there’s the now-infamous NDA Michael Cohen arranged with Stormy Daniels.

[Mediaite]

Kellyanne Conway cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars with trips on private jets

Kellyanne Conway traveled at least four times at taxpayer expense with former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — and congressional Democrats want an explanation.

Price resigned Sept. 29 over his use of taxpayer-funded private jets during his seven months in office, and he has repaid a fraction so far of his travel expenses, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

The Department of Treasury has received three checks from Price, who now works as an adviser for Jackson Healthcare, totaling $59,389.97 as reimbursement, according to Cummings.

HHS documents confirm Conway, the former Trump campaign manager and now a senior White House adviser, traveled along with Price at least four times between May and September at a cost to taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars.

Conway was joined on at least one of those flights by her staff, and she and Price also traveled with other unspecified White House officials.

The cost of those flights to taxpayers was at least $59,101.35, according to Cummings.

Other travel expenses were not provided to the committee.

[Raw Story]

EPA appointee gets approval to consult for outside clients

A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.

A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients.

Pruitt named Konkus, a Republican political consultant, to serve as the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs. His duties have included signing off on hundreds of millions in federal grants.

The letter gave Konkus approval to work for at least two clients. Those names were blacked out by the agency before a copy was provided to Congress, citing a privacy exemption more typically used to protect personnel records and medical files. The letter said Konkus was also expected to take on additional private clients, advising them about “strategy, mail and media production.”

Konkus didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. His boss said he followed proper procedure.

Liz Bowman, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs, said, “As the letter states, EPA career ethics approvals have reviewed and approved these opportunities.”

Federal regulations would still limit Konkus from receiving more than $27,765 from outside clients in 2017, according to the letter. His taxpayer-funded salary for his full-time position at the EPA is about $145,000 annually.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Konkus worked as an executive vice president for Jamestown Associates, a political consulting firm. According to the firm’s website last year, Konkus “worked on the ground tirelessly to help President Trump win Florida.”

Konkus also served two years as chief of staff to former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. A Republican, Carroll was forced to resign in 2013 over consulting work she had previously done for a scam veteran’s charity that state and federal prosecutors said laundered more than $300 million in proceeds from illegal gambling parlors.

Since Konkus arrived in Washington in early 2017, his responsibilities have included reviewing and approving all EPA grants prior to being awarded to help ensure they “adhere to the policies and principles of the current administration,” according to his online resume.

The Washington Post reported in September that Konkus had been scrutinizing grant applications for mentions of climate change, which he reportedly referred to as “the double C-word.”

That’s in line with statements by Pruitt, who as the administration’s top environmental official has embraced a pro-fossil-fuel agenda while questioning climate science showing that global warming is primarily caused by man-made carbon emissions.

House Democrats decried what they called the politicization of the EPA’s grants-making process in a letter sent to Pruitt on Monday.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” said the letter. Signatories included Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Democrats also demanded a list of all other EPA political appointees receiving outside compensation, as well as unredacted copies of the letters approving the outside work.

The AP filed a public records request with EPA in August under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking copies of all ethics letters, agreements or waivers for Pruitt’s team. So far, the agency has yet to release a single document.

Along with the information about Konkus’ side jobs, the House Democrats also got a copy of letter approving similar outside employment for Patrick Davis, another Trump political appointee working as a senior adviser for public engagement in the EPA’s regional office in Denver.

Like Konkus, Davis is a Republican political consultant who led Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado. According to a 2015 report by ProPublica, Davis was accused two years earlier of defrauding a conservative super PAC called Vote2ReduceDebt, which was funded by an elderly oil tycoon. The group collapsed after Davis allegedly paid nearly $3 million of the PAC’s funds to organizations run by him or his close associates, according to the news report.

Davis told the AP on Monday that the dispute involving Vote2Reduce Debt “was mitigated to a mutually agreed-upon, private, amicable conclusion.”

An EPA ethics lawyer in February 2017 approved of Davis receiving outside compensation for work as sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting, which provides services such as robocalls to political campaigns and advocacy groups. The agency redacted how much Davis is to be paid for the agreement, but his outside compensation would also be capped at less than $28,000.

Bowman said Davis’ work for Telephone Town Hall Meeting is conducted on his own time and does not intersect with work for EPA.

Environmentalists said Monday that the agency’s lack of transparency about the private payments to EPA staff on the public’s payroll raises concerns about whom they are really working for.

“The American people already know that Scott Pruitt is working for corporate polluters and not for them, but the revelation that his staff is moonlighting for private clients while working at the EPA full-time brings suspicions of pay-to-play to a whole new level,” said Melinda Pierce, the legislative director of the Sierra Club. “And if Konkus is not working for polluters directly, the public is forced to ask whether he is running a partisan political operation from within the agency instead.”

[Associated Press]

Israel invested in “Mideast peace” Trump adviser Jared Kushner

A new report indicates that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner holds a series of strong and shady financial ties to Israel, even as the administration insists he serves as a legitimate broker for potential peace efforts in the Middle East.

His family real estate business, Kushner Companies, received a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of the largest financial institutions in Israel, The New York Times reported. The deal was private and took place shortly before Kushner and Trump visited Israel in May on their first diplomatic trip.

The deal “pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm,” the Times reported. Despite the fact that Kushner sold parts of his business upon taking a job in the White House, he still holds a significant share in his family’s company, which include the Baltimore-area apartment buildings.

But the Menora deal only scratches the surface of Kushner’s financial conflicts of interests in the region that make the prospect of a fair solution seem bleak at the absolute best.

“The ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner, Robert Weissman, the president of the nonprofit government ethics group, Public Citizen, told the Times. “No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests.”

The Trump administration has defended itself, with a White House official saying Kushner “takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration,” the Times reported.

Kushner’s disclosure forms had “100 errors and omissions and multiple updates,” Newsweek reported in October.

Kushner’s family foundation also continues to donate heavily to a group that constructs the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a group largely seen as “one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution,” ProPublica reported.

The Kushners have also engaged in real estate deals with “at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey.” Beny Steinmetz, the most well-known member of the family, is the subject of a bribery investigation by the Justice Department, the Times reported.

“A lot of people wonder whether the United States has ever been an honest broker in the Middle East, and given the positions of the Trump administration, it’s probably even more vulnerable to those claims,” Richard W. Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for the Bush administration told the Times. Using Kushner, the U.S. is “sending over a special envoy who has already identified himself personally more with the hawkish views,” he added.
“He [Kushner] is getting money from wealthy citizens and businesses in one particular country,” Painter said. “You’ve got a situation that is going to be abused by people who don’t like the United States. He’s going to make it that much worse.”

The Kushner family ties to Israel obviously run quite deep, and it’s difficult to imagine the president’s son-in-law as a fair and unbiased broker of a solution for peace in the Middle East — especially with zero prior experience of diplomatic work. Trump has received international condemnation for his brash decision, which has only further stoked tensions with the Palestinians, as well as isolated the U.S. and Israel.

[Salon]

Kushner Used Private Email For White House Work

President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has used a private email account to communicate with other officials in the administration about White House business, according to Politico. 

Kushner has used the email to talk about various topics — including media planning and event coverage — with figures such as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Stephen Bannon and President Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Kushner set up the account during the transition period after he campaigned for Trump, who frequently attacked former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her user of a private email server while she was secretary of State.

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell told Politico in a statement.

“Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

The report comes as special counsel Robert Mueller continues to probe alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Kushner has been seen as a person of interest by Mueller.

The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. had discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.

It was reported in June that Kushner was present at a Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016 with a Russian lawyer that was organized by Donald Trump Jr. after he was told the lawyer could provide damaging information on Clinton.

[The Hill]

Scaramucci Asks FBI to Investigate Priebus For “Leaking” a Public Disclosure Form

In baffling tweet on Wednesday night, White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci appeared to accuse Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking his financial disclosure form.

https://twitter.com/Scaramucci/status/890401606893809664

The tweet came after a Politico report revealed Scaramucci will still benefit from his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, while at the White House. Along with his accusation, Scaramucci vowed to have the FBI and DOJ (two entities his principal, Donald Trump, has repeatedly berated) investigate what he described as a “felonious” leak. Scaramucci tagged @Reince45 in the post, which generated ample confusion until the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza clarified that the communications director did indeed mean he wants the FBI and DOJ to investigate Priebus over the matter.

The Department of Justice even chimed in, insisting it will look in to Scaramucci’s request:

Financial disclosure forms are public documents, and are eventually made available online via the White House website

[Raw Story]

Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign-Related Matters with Russian Ambassador, U.S. Intelligence Intercepts Show

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Current and former U.S. officials said that that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations in two encounters during the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions as his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous.

Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’s recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated regret at making the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russia contacts during the campaign.

Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and they acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.

“Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said a Justice Department spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, in a statement. She reasserted that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.

Russian and other foreign diplomats in Washington and elsewhere have been known, at times, to report false or misleading information to bolster their standing with their superiors or to confuse U.S. intelligence agencies.

But U.S. officials with regular access to Russian intelligence reports say Kislyak — whose tenure as ambassador to the United States ended recently — was known for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.

Sessions removed himself from direct involvement in the Russia investigation after it was revealed in The Washington Post that he had met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, contacts he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing in January.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said when asked whether anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with representatives of the Russian government.

He has since maintained that he misunderstood the scope of the question and that his meetings with Kislyak were strictly in his capacity as a U.S. senator. In a March appearance on Fox television, Sessions said, “I don’t recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way.”

Sessions appeared to narrow that assertion further in extensive testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, saying that he “never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”

But when pressed for details during that hearing, Sessions qualified many of his answers by saying that he could “not recall” or did not have “any recollection.”

[Washington Post]

Trump Defends Trump Jr.: ‘I Applaud His Transparency’

President Trump on Tuesday praised his son, Donald Trump Jr., who is under fire for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information about Trump’s Democratic rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton.

“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” Trump said in a brief statement, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders read to reporters during an off-camera briefing.

Trump had previously remained silent on the growing controversy surrounding the meeting at the height of the campaign, which became public Saturday.

The revelation has shaken the White House, which for months has struggled to contain the fallout from a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s election-meddling effort in 2016.

Sanders acknowledged that, “the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue.”

“He would love for us to be focused on things like … the economy, on healthcare, on tax reform, on infrastructure and that’s the place that his mind is and that’s what he’d like to be discussing,” she said.

Sanders, however, did not dispute stunning new emails disclosed by Trump Jr. Tuesday detailing efforts to set up the meeting.

She was peppered with questions about the stunning disclosure during the 21-minute briefing, repeatedly referring reporters to attorneys representing the president and his eldest son.

The lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sanders did engage some questions about the meeting, saying it’s “ridiculous” to use the words “treason” or “perjury” to describe Trump Jr.’s behavior, as some critics have alleged.

The spokesman stood by her Monday claim that Trump Jr. did not collude with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

She said she was not able to say the last time the president spoke with his son and refused to say whether Trump now believes Russia interfered with last year’s election.

Sanders also denied that Vice President Pence was trying to distance himself from the Trump Jr. controversy by putting out a statement saying he is “not focused on stories about the campaign… especially those about the time he joined the ticket.”

“There is absolutely no distance between the president and the vice president,” she said.

Michael Flynn was fired in February as national security adviser in large part because he misrepresented his conversation with Russia’s U.S. ambassador to Pence. The vice president went on television and denied Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, even though he did.

[The Hill]

Reality

Donald Trump Jr. didn’t release the emails out of some altruistic sense of transparency, the New York Times obtained the emails and asked him for a comment from him before releasing them to the public.

Trump Jr. never responded to the request, and instead released the emails, most likely in a self-server move to get out in front of the story.

If it really was about transparency, Trump Jr. would have released the emails months before the New York Times broke this story.

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