President Trump Ranted About ‘Getting Rid of Judges’

Apparently, we had something of an “episode” in the Oval Office Tuesday afternoon.

“Sure, it’s going to have a negative impact on the economy,” the president jovially admitted of his proposed shutdown. “It is one of the biggest trade deals in the world that we’ve just done with the USMCA. It is a very big trading partner. Trading is very important, the borders are very important, but security is what most important. I have to have security. And we’re going to have security in this country. That is more important than trade. Let me just give you a little secret, security is more important to me than trade, so we’re going to have a strong border, or we’re going to have a closed border. I’m totally prepared to do it.”

“Well I haven’t made that intention known and I’m ready to close it if I have to close it. Mexico has the strongest immigration laws in the world. Nobody has stronger. I guess some have the same but you can’t get any stronger than what Mexico has and we don’t want people coming up on this dangerous journey and coming in. And what we have to do is Congress has to meet quickly and make a deal. I could do it in 45 minutes. We need to get rid of chain migration, we need to get rid of catch and release and visa lottery and we have to do something about asylum and to be honest with you, I have to get rid of judges.”

Oh. And there were some pronunciation issues.

Meanwhile, those “rural voters” who, evidently, are the only voters that truly matter, are getting hammered all over the midwest. From NBC News:

Farmers will have to destroy any grains that were contaminated by floodwater, which could also prevent some growers from planting oversaturated fields. Near Crescent, Iowa, farmer Don Rief said the flood damaged more than 60,000 bushels of his grain, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He tried to move the crops before the flood, but dirt roads were too soft from the storm to support trucks. “We were just hurrying like hell,” Rief said. “Hopefully USDA will come in and minimize some of the damage.” The USDA does not have a program that covers flood-damaged grain because farmers have typically received more advance notice of rising waters, allowing them to move crops and limit losses, said Tom Vilsack, who ran the agency under former President Barack Obama.

That’s going to have to change, it seems. We don’t get many warnings about sudden calamities anymore and, the ones we get, we don’t listen to anyway.

[Esquire]

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]

Trump says Democrats ‘cannot legitimately win’ 2020 presidential election

Donald Trump has claimed the Democratic Party “cannot legitimately win” the 2020 presidential election, in an angry tweet condemning congressional oversight of his administration.

“The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see,” Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday morning.

“When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn! The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!”

The US president’s comment, in response to a grilling of his acting attorney general by the House judiciary committee, echoed similar ones he made in 2016 when he threatened to not accept the results of the “rigged” presidential election should he have lost.

Ned Price, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, accused Mr Trump of launching an early bid to sow doubts about the legitimacy of next year’s vote.

“The first two sentences are laughable. The third is frightening—especially the use of the adverb “legitimately”, he tweeted.

“He’s setting the stage, months in advance, to be able to say the 2020 election was stolen. It’s fair to start asking whether Trump would cede power peacefully.”

Prominent lawyer and Trump critic David Leopold accused the president of attacking “the legitimacy of the 2020 election which he increasingly expects to lose”.

“That’s what thugs in power do,” he added.

Sam Vinograd, a former director on the National Security Council, said Mr Trump was aligning with Russia in “undermining confidence” in American democracy.

Mr Trump went on to claim on Twitter, without providing evidence, that America would be in recession if he had lost the election to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

“We have a great economy DESPITE the Obama Administration and all of its job killing Regulations and Roadblocks,” he wrote. “If that thinking prevailed in the 2016 Election, the U.S. would be in a Depression right now! We were heading down, and don’t let the Democrats sound bites fool you!”

The president’s outburst came the day after Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was repeatedly pressed by judiciary committee members on his relationship with the White House and his views on Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.

Mr Whitaker, an appointee of Mr Trump, at one point caused the committee and audience members to gasp in disbelief when he avoided answering a question from the chairman by telling him his time had run out.

“Mr Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up,” he said in response to Jerrold Nadler.

The heated exchange arrived after the committee chairman asked Mr Whitaker whether he had “ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel”.

[Independent]

Trump says he is considering using emergency powers to build wall

President Donald Trump said Friday that he is considering using emergency powers which would allow him to use military funding to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, saying “I can do it if I want.”

“We can call a national emergency because of the security … I haven’t done it. I may do it but we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly,” he said during remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

Trump has repeatedly talked about declaring a national emergency in recent months but hasn’t followed through yet, allowing the government to shut down over funding the wall rather than declaring one.

On Friday, he seemed to indicate that he would prefer to secure the funding through Congress.

“If we can do it through the negotiating process, we’re giving that a shot,” he said.

However, Trump also said he believes he doesn’t need congressional approval to build the wall.

“Absolutely,” Trump replied. “We can call a national emergency. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. It’s another way of doing it.”

Asked if that was a threat to Democrats, Trump said: “I never threaten anybody, but I am allowed to do it — call a national emergency.”

“If we can do it through the negotiating process, we’re giving that a shot,” he said.

In December, defense officials from the Homeland Defense section of the Pentagon visited the White House for a meeting to discuss the possibility, three US officials have told CNN.

The meeting, which included officials from the Department of Homeland Security, focused on options that would allow Trump to build the border wall by tapping into military funding if he was unable to secure the money he wants from Congress.

[CNN]

Trump threatens to extend partial government shutdown for years

President Trump on Friday threatened to keep roughly a quarter of the federal government closed for years amid a dispute over border-wall funding, the latest sign the president and congressional Democrats remain far apart on resolving the two-week-long shutdown.

Trump confirmed after a heated, closed-door meeting that he “absolutely” told Democrats the shutdown could last more than a year, which was first revealed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) following the negotiation session inside the White House Situation Room.

“We told the president we needed the government open,” Schumer told reporters on the West Wing driveway after the meeting. “He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Addressing the news media later in the Rose Garden, the president expressed hope that the shutdown would not last that long, citing what he believes is Democrats’ willingness to strike a deal.

Despite the Democrats’ description of the two-hour meeting as “contentious,” Trump called it “productive” and said he appointed a working group of top administration officials to continue talks with lawmakers through the weekend.

“I thought it was really a very, very good meeting. We’re all on the same path in terms of wanting to get government open,” the president said during a news conference that lasted roughly an hour.

But the president refused to back away from what he called his “very firm” demand for $5.6 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats have repeatedly rejected that demand.

Trump also threatened to use emergency powers to build the wall, a move that would inflame tensions with Congress, where Democrats have taken control of the House, and raise legal questions about his executive authority.

“Yes, I have,” Trump said when asked if he is considering declaring a national emergency to start wall construction if he doesn’t receive funding from Congress. “We can do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it.”

The government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, when Trump backed away from a spending agreement that he was expected to sign into law, one that didn’t include wall funding.

Around 800,000 workers across more than half a dozen agencies are closer to missing their next paycheck because of the funding lapse, and government services and museums have begun to shutter.

In one of their first acts in the majority, Democrats on Thursday passed a spending package that would reopen the vast majority of the closed parts of government while funding the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, through Feb. 8 to buy more time for spending talks.

“We cannot resolve this until we open up government,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after emerging from the White House on Friday.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring the House-passed measure to the floor for a vote, citing a veto threat from the White House.

Trump rejected Pelosi’s proposal to reopen most of the closed parts of government while wall talks continue, saying, “We won’t be opening until it’s solved.”

[The Hill]

Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations

President Donald Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the President’s actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he’s potentially implicated in.

Whitaker and William “Bill” Barr, Trump’s nominee to replace Sessions, are facing increased scrutiny this week for their criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Whitaker refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. And a memo from Barr came to light in which he wrote that Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey did not amount to obstruction.

Trump has already shown a willingness to use the Justice Department to settle political scores. As CNN previously reported, the President questioned Whitaker about the progression of the investigation against Hillary Clinton when Whitaker was Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.

“It seems very clear that the only reason that Matt Whitaker was ever appointed to this role was specifically to oversee the Mueller investigation,” Mueller biographer Garrett Graff said on Friday in an interview on CNN’s Newsroom.

With Sessions, Trump ranted publicly about how he did nothing to curtail the Mueller investigation. Sessions had recused himself from oversight because of his role on the Trump campaign.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” the President tweeted in August.

The Justice Department declined to comment on any discussions between Whitaker and the President.

The President’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, could not confirm the conversations with Whitaker but said the President views the SDNY prosecutors as out of control. “The president and his lawyers are upset about the professional prosecutors in the Southern District of New York going after a non-crime and the innuendo the president was involved,” Giuliani said in a statement to CNN Friday.

One source close to Whitaker pushed back on the notion that the Cohen situation caused tension between the two, emphasizing that Whitaker and the President have a “great relationship.”

[CNN]

Trump: ‘Unfair’ coverage should be tested in courts

President Trump early Sunday ripped “one sided” and “unfair” media coverage, saying it should be tested in courts.

“A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live,” he tweeted.

“It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?”

Trump posted the tweet after NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” pondered a world in which the president was not elected in its latest cold open.

The president also knocked the sketch comedy show after its season premiere earlier this year, saying it was “just a political ad for the Dems.”

Trump often labels negative coverage “fake news” and calls the media the “enemy of the people.”

In October, he blamed what he deemed unfair media coverage for causing “great anger” in the country.

The president said in a pair of tweets following a violent week of mail bombs and a shooting that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue that the “Fake News Media” is “the true Enemy of the People.”

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly,” Trump wrote.

“That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony,” he added.

Trump in September repeated his suggestion that NBC’s “license” should be challenged. In a tweet, he attacked the network’s “journalistic standards” following reports that it had passed on a damning exposé about Harvey Weinstein.

“NBC FAKE NEWS, which is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story, is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct,” the president wrote.

“I have long criticized NBC and their journalistic standards-worse than even CNN. Look at their license?” he added.

Broadcasting licenses are granted to individual stations instead of networks like NBC,  however.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai repeatedly said last year that the FCC would not revoke those licenses on the basis of a station’s content.

Satire is also protected by the First Amendment.

[The Hill]

Trump Moves to Deport Vietnam War Refugees

The Trump administration is resuming its efforts to deport certain protected Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades—many of them having fled the country during the Vietnam War.

This is the latest move in the president’s long record of prioritizing harsh immigration and asylum restrictions, and one that’s sure to raise eyebrows—the White House had hesitantly backed off the plan in August before reversing course. In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law—meaning they are all eligible for deportation.

The new stance mirrors White House efforts to clamp down on immigration writ large, a frequent complaint of the president’s on the campaign trail and one he links to a litany of ills in the United States.

The administration last year began pursuing the deportation of many long-term immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries who the administration alleges are “violent criminal aliens.” But Washington and Hanoi have a unique 2008 agreement that specifically bars the deportation of Vietnamese people who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995—the date the two former foes reestablished diplomatic relations following the Vietnam War.

The White House unilaterally reinterpreted the agreement in the spring of 2017 to exempt people convicted of crimes from its protections, allowing the administration to send back a small number of pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants, a policy it retreated from this past August. Last week, however, James Thrower, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, said the American government was again reversing course.

Washington now believes that the 2008 agreement fails to protect pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants from deportation, Thrower told The Atlantic. This would apply to such migrants who are either undocumented or have committed crimes, and this interpretation would not apply to those who have become American citizens.

“The United States and Vietnam signed a bilateral agreement on removals in 2008 that establishes procedures for deporting Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States after July 12, 1995, and are subject to final orders of removal,” Thrower said. “While the procedures associated with this specific agreement do not apply to Vietnamese citizens who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, it does not explicitly preclude the removal of pre-1995 cases.”

The about-turn came as a State Department spokesperson confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security had met with representatives of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C., but declined to provide details of when the talks took place or what was discussed.

Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for DHS said: “We have 5,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal—these are non-citizens who during previous administrations were arrested, convicted, and ultimately ordered removed by a federal immigration judge. It’s a priority of this administration to remove criminal aliens to their home country.”

Spokespeople for the Vietnamese embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, said in a statement that the purpose of the meeting was to change the 2008 agreement. That deal had initially been set to last for five years, and was to be automatically extended every three years unless either party opted out. Under those rules, it was set to renew next month. Since 1998, final removal orders have been issued for more than 9,000 Vietnamese nationals.

When it first decided to reinterpret the 2008 deal, Donald Trump’s administration argued that only pre-1995 arrivals with criminal convictions were exempt from the agreement’s protection and eligible for deportation. Vietnam initially conceded and accepted some of those immigrants before stiffening its resistance; about a dozen Vietnamese immigrants ended up being deported from the United States. The August decision to change course, reported to a California court in October, appeared to put such moves at least temporarily on ice, but the latest shift leaves the fate of a larger number of Vietnamese immigrants in doubt. Now all pre-1995 arrivals are exempt from the 2008 agreement’s protection.

Many pre-1995 arrivals, all of whom were previously protected under the 2008 agreement by both the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, were refugees from the Vietnam War. Some are the children of those who once allied with American and South Vietnamese forces, an attribute that renders them undesirable to the current regime in Hanoi, which imputes anti-regime beliefs to the children of those who opposed North Vietnam. This anti-Communist constituency includes minorities such as the children of the American-allied Montagnards, who are persecuted in Vietnamfor both their ethnicity and Christian religion.

The Trump administration’s move reflects an entirely new reading of the agreement, according to Ted Osius, who served as the United States ambassador to Vietnam from December 2014 through November 2017.* Osius said that while he was in office, the 2008 agreement was accepted by all involved parties as banning the deportation of all pre-1995 Vietnamese immigrants.

“We understood that the agreement barred the deportation of pre-1995 Vietnamese. Both governments—and the Vietnamese-American community—interpreted it that way,” Osius told The Atlantic in an email. The State Department, he added, had explained this to both the White House and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

News of the Trump administration’s renewed hard line quickly made the rounds on Vietnamese American social media, with advocacy groups warning of potentially increased deportations.

“Forty-three years ago, a lot of the Southeast Asian communities and Vietnamese communities fled their countries and their homeland due to the war, which the U.S. was involved in, fleeing for their safety and the safety of their families,” said Kevin Lam, the organizing director of the Asian American Resource Workshop, an advocacy group. “The U.S. would do well to remember that.”

[The Atlantic]

Trump: ‘People would revolt’ if I were impeached

President Donald Trump says in a new interview that he is not concerned about being impeached by Democrats, saying, “I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

In a Reuters interview Tuesday, Trump spoke out for the first time about new documents filed by prosecutors detailing the alleged crimes of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen has said he made hush payments to two women accusing Trump of infidelity in the waning days of the 2016 campaign.

Asked if he discussed campaign finance law with Cohen, Trump tells Reuters: “Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assume he would know what he’s doing.”

He adds: “Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?”

[The Washington Post]

CNN offices evacuated in bomb scare just as Trump tweeted ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’ about media he doesn’t like

Donald Trump launched his latest attack on the media just as the offices of CNN, frequently the target of his anger, were being evacuated following a bomb threat.

Police searched the broadcaster’s New York newsroom after a caller claimed five explosives had been placed inside the building. Officers later gave the all-clear.

Moments after the threat, which CNN said came just before 10pm, the president wrote on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

There is no suggestion he had seen reports of the evacuation when he posted the tweet, which followed posts in which accused the FBI of pursuing a “witch hunt” against him.

But the apparent coincidence is likely to reignite concerns about Mr Trump’s anti-media rhetoric.

Earlier this year, CNN and several high-profile critics, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were targeted with mail bombs allegedly sent by a Trump supporter.

New York Police Department said the latest threat against the broadcaster on Thursday night proved to be hoax.

Police said they received an emergency call about the threat at 10.07pm local time (3.07am GMT), a minute before Mr Trump’s tweet.

Staff evacuated the Time Warner Centre and Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight was taken off the air as officers searched the building with a bomb squad on standby.

The network broadcast pre-recorded programming for about 30 minutes before Mr Lemon’s show resumed live from the street outside.

No bombs were found inside the building.

[The Independent]

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