Trump asked Whitaker if he could put prosecutor in charge of Cohen probe

President Donald Trump asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if a US attorney he appointed could oversee an investigation tied to himself after the US attorney in question had already recused himself from the probe, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Times report cited several US officials with direct knowledge of the call that the paper said occurred late last year. 

Trump tapped Whitaker to lead the Justice Department in November after he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump regularly slammed for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump soured on Whitaker as well, according to Times, which said it was “unclear” what Whitaker did after the call. The Times said there was no evidence Whitaker took steps to intervene in the investigation Trump asked about, although the report said he told Justice Department associates that the prosecutors needed “adult supervision.” 

CNN reported in December that Trump had lashed out at Whitaker on at least two occasions, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced Trump in crimes to which his former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty. The first instance came after Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, and the second came after prosecutors implicated Trump in a hush-money scheme to silence women.

Trump later denied the CNN report in a tweet saying he had “great respect” for Whitaker. 

Attorney General William Barr was confirmed last week to take over the department permanently. 

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month that “‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.’ Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony,” she said. When pressed directly by House Judiciary Committee members about any conversations with the President about the southern district of New York investigation Whitaker refused to answer.

Trump on Tuesday denied a question from a reporter about whether he asked Whitaker about a recusal matter in the case.

“No, I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump said.

Trump went on to praise Whitaker as “a very, very straight shooter” and said he had “a lot of respect” for him.

The President also praised Whitaker’s performance during the House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, calling it “exceptional.”

“He should be given a lot of thanks from our nation,” Trump said. 

The investigation Trump called Whitaker about is led by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, a Manhattan-based team that has prosecuted Cohen. After a showdown early in his White House tenure, Trump fired the head of that office.

Preet Bharara, the former US attorney who is now a CNN contributor, later said he felt if he had stayed on the job, Trump would have asked him “to do something inappropriate.” 

Trump’s then-Attorney General Sessions went on to appoint Geoffrey Berman, a former law partner of Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, to lead the high-profile office. CNN reported after the federal raid on Cohen last year that Berman had been recused from the probe.

[CNN]

The chairman of the far-right Proud Boys sat behind Trump at his latest speech

Amid the sea of dark suits and red “Make America Great Again” gear behind President Trump at his televised speech in Miami on Monday, one man stood out. Appearing above the president in some live shots, he wore dark sunglasses, a black baseball cap and a black T-shirt with a message of support for Trump’s longtime adviser now facing federal charges: “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong!”

The man is notable for more than his attire, though. Enrique Tarrio is the chairman of the Proud Boys, a far-right, self-described “western chauvinist” organization known for violently clashing with antifascists and for its alleged links to white nationalists.

Neither Trump nor the White House knew he was in attendance, Tarrio told The Washington Post. Rather, he said he scored the prime seat simply by showing up early at Florida International University.

“I got there at 7 a.m., so I got to pick my seat,” Tarrio told The Post. “I was the second person in line. I stood in the hot Miami sun.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a message about Tarrio’s appearance.

The Proud Boys leader’s prominent placement at Trump’s speech could give new fuel to critics who say the president has failed to distance himself from the far right in the years since he claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which was organized by a man who once attended Proud Boys meetings. Tarrio also attended the rally, though he claims to have left before the violent attacks began.

Tarrio disputes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s claim that his organization is a hate group, an allegation that also led Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to sue the SPLC earlier this month.

“I’m not a white supremacist. I’m not an extremist. I’m a regular dude,” said Tarrio, a small-business owner who identifies as Afro-Cuban and who served nearly a year in federal prison for his role in a scheme to resell stolen medical equipment.

[Washington Post]

Frazzled and furious Trump attacks McCabe, Mueller and the media in hours-long Twitter meltdown

President Donald Trump closed Presidents Day weekend with a repeat performance of his late Sunday night into early Monday morning tweetstorm. For the second night in a row the President was up late Monday launching angry – and this time, juvenile – tweets, attacking his favorite targets: the Mueller investigation, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and, as usual, the media.

And accusing some, like McCabe, of “Treason!”

Trump was clearly watching Fox News’ Sean Hannity when he tweeted that attack, and clearly he liked the “lying & leaking” part because about 30 minutes later, this juvenile attack:

Less than nine hours later, Trump was back with the attacks, again, quoting Fox News:

And then, minutes later, the media:

And then, the Democrats. Trump has literally no idea how the U.S. court system works. He thinks California has the option of filing a lawsuit in, say, Maine. They don’t. The 9th Circuit has jurisdiction over California, but Trump doesn’t understand that, so he displays his ignorance time and time again. But he’s also wrong: it’s 16 states, not cities, led by California.

“As I predicted, 16 cities, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!”

All in all, 10 tweets in 10 hours, including, quite ironically – and an amazing self-own – this:

[Raw Story]


Japan’s PM nominated Trump for Nobel Peace Prize on U.S. request

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize last autumn after receiving a request from the U.S. government to do so, the Asahi newspaper reported on Sunday.

The report follows Trump’s claim on Friday that Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for opening talks and easing tensions with North Korea.

The Japanese leader had given him “the most beautiful copy” of a five-page nomination letter, Trump said at a White House news conference.

The U.S. government had sounded Abe out over the Noble Peace Prize nomination after Trump’s summit in June last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president, the Asahi said, citing an unnamed Japanese government source.

A spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said the ministry was aware of Trump’s remarks, but “would refrain from commenting on the interaction between the two leaders.”

The White House had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

The Nobel Foundation’s website says a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize may be submitted by any person who meets the nomination criteria, which includes current heads of states. Under the foundation’s rules, names and other information about unsuccessful nominations cannot be disclosed for 50 years.

[Reuters]

Trump Urges ‘Retribution’ Against Saturday Night Live and ‘Many Other Shows’

Donald Trump‘s Sunday morning rage-tweet began with the suggestion of “retribution” against Saturday Night Live after the sketch show lampooned his “national emergency” press conference, in a pair of tweets that could serve as the script for next week’s show.

Trump slammed SNL and “many other shows,” called for “retribution,” and suggested that comedy shows be investigated for “collusion”:

Saturday night’s episode of SNL featured a cold-open that tore into the press conference at which Trump admitted his national emergence was not a national emergency while he was declaring a national emergency. There was also a biting segment during Weekend Update in which Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi rubbed Trump’s nose in the border compromise deal.

This is not the first time Trump has levelled accusations of “collusion” and suggested action against this particular television program. In December, Trump said that SNL and “unfair news coverage” should be “tested in courts.”

It is unclear what, exactly, Trump wants investigated, or what “retribution” he thinks is in order, but the First Amendment appears to protect comedy shows, even if they all make fun of the same guy.

[Mediaite]

Trump Brags of 52% Approval Rating, From a Single Day in a Single Republican Daily Poll, Several Days Ago

n Trump’s third tweet this morning he cited numbers from an unnamed poll that he claims shows a 52 percent approval rating, 93 percent among the Republican Party: “Pretty amazing considering that 93% (also) of my press is REALLY BAD. The PEOPLE are smart!”

[Palm Beach Daily News]

Reality

Trump is cherry picking the Republican-leaning Rasmussen polls again. This number is from a single daily poll from one polling company… from several days ago.


Trump warns Europe he will free ISIS fighters if allies won’t prosecute them

President Donald Trump threatened Sunday to release hundreds of Islamic State fighters being held in Syria if allies in Europe don’t agree to take custody of the militants.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a late-night tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them.”

Trump, who intends to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, said the likely destination for the militants would be European countries. “The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go,” Trump said.

During the civil war in Syria, hundreds of militants flooded into the country, many coming from Europe to join ISIS’ ranks. It’s unclear how many of the militants Trump is referring to are actually European citizens.

Trump’s comments come as global leaders wrap up three days of security talks in Munich, where the conflict in Syria was among the agenda items.

James Jeffrey, the U.S.’s special representative on Syria issues, said in Munich that the U.S. will leave northeastern Syria, but the troop pullout will not be abrupt.

“It will be an orderly step-by-step withdraw,”Jeffrey said without offering a timeline.

In December, Trump called for a complete withdraw of U.S. forces in the country. And on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that the U.S. still plans to wind down the mission in Syria.

Still, the U.S. said it intends to keep its coalition together and wants allies to play a larger role in the broader campaign to root out ISIS elements.

Jeffrey said there are hundreds of ISIS cells scattered throughout the region. U.S. air power will remain ready to respond when needed, he said.

Trump has essentially declared victory over the group, which has been forced out of all its former strongholds in Iraq and Syria. But there remain concerns that ISIS could regroup if the U.S. pulls out. Trump said the time has come for other countries to pick up the slack.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!,” Trump tweeted.

[Stars and Stripes]

Reality

Trump promised in the campaign he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS in 90 days. Instead:

1. 90 days came and went.

2. Said you’ll have a plan soon.

3. Your plan was to give the generals 90 days to formulate a plan.

4. Their plan was Obama’s strategy.

5. You take credit for #winning.

Federal judge halts Trump attempt to discharge service members deemed ‘unfit’ only because they are HIV-positive

A federal judge has issued a ruling from the bench halting the Trump administration’s attempts to discharge service members merely due to their HIV-positive status. The order goes into effect immediately for the U.S. Air Force after two airmen sued Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

“The two Airmen serving as plaintiffs, who filed pseudonymously, were given discharge orders at the end of last year after being found ‘unfit for continued military service’ despite compliance with medical treatment and physical fitness requirements,” Lambda Legal announced Friday.

The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn.

“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma, as today’s ruling from the bench demonstrates,” Lambda Legal’s Scott Schoettes said, calling the judge’s decision, ” a major victory.”

Equality Cases Files published a copy of the ruling here.

[Raw Story]

Trump just tweeted a video of Democrats looking sad set to REM’s “Everybody Hurts.” Really.

After declaring a national emergency to get his wall at the US-Mexico border on Friday, President Donald Trump took a little time on Twitter to mock his Democratic critics — and Mitt Romney.

The tweet features a video of Trump’s State of the Union last week, with REM’s “Everybody Hurts” playing in the background, and shots of various Democrats — Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and more — looking sad while they watched Trump speak. There is also a cut to Romney, who’s at times critical of Trump.

The video is credited to @Carpedonktum, a pro-Trump meme-maker — making it even weirder, since presidents usually don’t promote random Twitter accounts’ content.

Sure, this is funny — if, say, The Daily Showor Stephen Colbert does something like it.

But for the president to tweet it, it’s alarming. In the past, presidents have tried to keep at least a bit of an appearance that they respected and were willing to work with the other party. With his tweet, Trump is doing nothing of the sort; he’s just mocking his Democratic rivals.

It’s another example of how strong negative partisanship — or, in conservative parlance, “owning the libs” — has become. On both sides of the aisle, people love dunking on the other team. As American politics becomes more and more polarized, and Republicans in particular move in more extreme directions, this is becoming a bigger problem — one that’s fracturing both sides’ ability to work together to pass legislation and solve problems.

This even showed up in Trump’s State of the Union speech. Peter Baker reported for the New York Times that the initial speech was supposed to promote a more unified, bipartisan message, but Trump tried to edit it to make it meaner to Democrats — because, Baker wrote, Trump was still “stung by his failure to use a partial government shutdown to pressure Congress into paying for his border wall.”

And we’ve seen it in governments’ inability to really function in recent years, with various threats that the debt ceiling won’t be increased and multiple government shutdowns.

All of that may lead to some funny, unexpected tweets. But those tweets are a symptom of America’s broken politics.

[Vox]

Trump just declared a national emergency at the border

After battling for weeks over funding for a border wall, overseeing the longest government shutdown in US history, and finally signing on to a deal to fund the government, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over a contrived crisis at the US-Mexico border.

On Friday, Trump invoked his power to declare a national emergency in a unilateral effort to make progress on the border wall Congress has thus far denied him. He initially demanded $5 billion for the construction of about 200 miles of barrier at the border, and Democrats in Congress have repeatedly refused to go anywhere near that figure. He got about $1.3 billion for border fencing in the deal he finally agreed to, a far cry from the desired amount. So he’s going with a national emergency to get more.

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we’re going to do it, one way or another, we have to do it,” he said in a speech at the White House Rose Garden on Friday.

Trump will try to cobble together funds from a number of areas and redirect them toward border wall construction. White House officials ahead of the announcement on Friday said he would redirect about $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, an account funded by money seized by the US government; $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities; and $3.6 billion from other military construction accounts. Trump won’t try to take anything from disaster relief.

“I didn’t need to do this,” Trump said on Friday. “But I’d rather do it much faster.”

That the president has finally decided to declare an emergency isn’t entirely surprising — he has been wavering on the idea for weeks.

So why declare a national emergency in addition to the spending deal? The short answer is that Trump doesn’t want to admit he lost. He’s already getting less for border fencing than was in the original spending bill he refused to sign in December — and caused a 35-day government shutdown over — so he’s looking to executive action instead.

There has been some debate about whether Trump can indeed declare an emergency at the border considering there isn’t really one, and the answer, at least initially, seems to be that he can.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday that he would support the emergency declaration.

[Vox]

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