Trump bragged that his tower withstood a fire — but has been silent about the man who died in it

Depending on whom you followed more closely, there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Soon, flames could be seen making their way across the unit as dark plumes of smoke billowed upward, obstructing many of the floors above.

By the time firefighters arrived at the 50th floor of the building, they found “the apartment was entirely on fire,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.

Forcing their way into the unit, firefighters pulled out one person, unconscious and unresponsive, who had been trapped inside, Nigro added.

The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. He later died.

In all, six firefighters — of the roughly 200 or so who had responded — suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Nigro said.

For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating with the public.

“Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted Saturday, about an hour after the fire broke out. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”

Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.

The fire was still not considered to be under control then because of smoke conditions above the 50th floor, Nigro said Saturday. It was brought under control shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after Trump’s tweet, fire officials said.

[Washington Post]

Trump denies he knew about lawyer’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels

President Donald Trump denied Thursday that he knew about his lawyer’s $130,000 payment to former adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump spoke to reporters for the first time about the payment, made shortly before the 2016 election, to secure Daniels’ silence about allegations of a sexual encounter with the president years ago. Representatives for the president have denied that Trump and Daniels engaged in a tryst.

The president said Thursday he did not know where his personal attorney Michael Cohen got the money.

During an Air Force One trip back from an event in West Virginia, he told reporters they would have to ask Cohen about why the lawyer made the payment. Cohen has said the money came from his own pocket.
Cohen’s action has prompted questions about possible campaign finance law violations.

Last month, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, sued Cohen to try to get released from a nondisclosure agreement she signed in October 2016.

[NBC News]

Media

Top Trump campaign officials urged Papadopoulos to communicate with Russians

Former Donald Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was encouraged by campaign officials to communicate with foreign contacts, according to the Washington Post.

As the Post reports, Papadopoulos was urged by deputy communications director Bryan Lanza to participate in an interview with a Russian news agency.

“You should do it,” Lanza told Papadopoulos, adding the connection could benefit a “partnership with Russia.”

According to the Post, emails turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller show “more extensive contact” between Papadopoulos and top campaign and transition officials “than has been publicly acknowledged.”

Papadopoulos also communicated with former White House strategist Steve Bannon and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, “who corresponded with [Papadopoulos] about his efforts to broker ties between Trump and top foreign officials.”

Read the full report at the Washington Post.

[Raw Story]

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]

Notes, emails reveal Trump appointees’ war to end HHS teen pregnancy program

The Trump administration’s abrupt cancellation of a federal program to prevent teen pregnancy last year was directed by political appointees over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News.

The trove shows three appointees with strict pro-abstinence beliefs — including Valerie Huber, the then-chief of staff for the department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health — guided the process to end a program many medical professionals credit with helping to bring the nation’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low.

Prior to serving at HHS, Huber was the president of Ascend, an association that promotes abstinence until marriage as the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.

The $213 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program was aimed at helping teenagers understand how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It had bipartisan support in Congress and trained more than 7,000 health professionals and supported 3,000 community-based organizations since its inception in 2010.

In the notes provided to NBC News, Evelyn Kappeler, who for eight years has led the Office of Adolescent Health, which administers the program, repeatedly expressed concerns about terminating the program, but appeared out of the decision-making loop and at one point was driven to tears.

In a July 17, 2017 note, she says she was admonished to “get in line” and told it was not her place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds. In a July 28 note, Kappeler recalled she was “frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fact that (her staff) has not been part of the discussions.” She described being “so rattled” that “my reaction when I got on (sic) the phone was to cry.”

She and her staff “were not aware of the grant action until the last minute” — an apparent reference to the decision, it says.

Last month, Democracy Forward, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group, sued the administration for unlawfully terminating the program after the agency took months to respond to its Freedom of Information Act request.

The group claims the newly obtained emails show that HHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act that bars arbitrary decision-making and that the political appointees thwarted the will of Congress.

“Now that we’ve seen these documents, there is no question to us why the Trump administration withheld” the emails, said Skye Perryman, the group’s lawyer. The decision to end the program “was made hastily, without a record of any reasoned decision making and under the influence of political appointees who have long opposed evidenced-based policy,” she said.

Parties suing over the action include the city of Baltimore and the Healthy Teen Network, which represents grantees across the country.

HHS has given different explanations about its decision to terminate the program, including claims that it was ineffective or that it did not conform to the president’s proposed budget. HHS did not respond to emails or answer questions about who was responsible for ending the program.

HHS spokesman Mark Vafiades directed NBC News to a fact sheet and announcement on the agency’s website. They state that 73 percent of the projects funded by the program “had no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior, with some teens more likely to begin having sex, to engage in unprotected sex or to become pregnant.”

“The evidence stands in stark contrast to the promised results,” the statement says.

The story behind the program’s demise is one of a growing list of examples of the control Trump political appointees are exerting at federal agencies.

It is also part of a broader narrative about programs benefiting women and children becoming political targets under a president who insists he is an advocate for women’s rights and health. Under Trump, a mandate under the Affordable Care Act to cover contraceptive coverage has been rolled back, while Republicans in Congress have sought to defund Planned Parenthood and proposed budget cuts to Medicaid, which covers half of all births.

In July 2017, the Office of Adolescent Health notified 81 grantees including the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that it would be discontinuing funding under the Obama-era program beginning this June, with some programs cut off immediately.

After the program’s 2010 inception, teen pregnancy and birth rates fell faster than ever. Health care experts say considerable research and money that has already been invested in the program will be wasted and the number of at-risk teens will increase.

The president of the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and women’s health advocacy groups, such as Planned Parenthood, have expressed alarm.

Haywood L. Brown, president of ACOG, called the program “vital.” The administration’s decision, Brown said in a statement, is “highly unusual” and a “step backward for ensuring healthy moms and healthy babies.”

In an op-ed last year, Ron Haskins, previously a Republican co-chair of a bipartisan commission on evidence-based policy making established by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that by ending the program, Trump has “exploded one of our most promising evidence-based programs.”

In a June 21 note by Kappeler, Steven Valentine, Huber’s deputy, is described as having “taken the lead” in reversing the program. Valentine directed Kappeler to halt the review process for the grants, the notes say.

Before coming to HHS, Valentine was a legislative assistant to Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., an outspoken abortion rights opponent. Valentine also worked for a short time at the Susan B. Anthony List, a political organization that supports candidates who oppose abortion rights.

Don Wright, a senior career official at HHS, stated in a July 28 email to Kappeler that he himself was only “tangentially” involved in the discussions about the program’s termination. But one set of notes documents him instructing skeptical career staff members on the appropriate behavior of civil servants. He later complained to Kappeler about “rolling of the eyes by some staff,” her notes say.

Weeks later, Wright was made acting secretary of the department.

Also according Kappeler’s notes, some staff “expressed concerns about being able to ask questions in this environment and the lack of engagement by policy staff directly with the program office.”

Kappeler’s memos “are quite revealing of the agency’s improper and unlawful decision making,” said Perryman, Democracy Forward’s lawyer.

“The documents also show HHS disregarded the views of experienced career employees including those of the director of the Office of Adolescent Health,” she said.

Another appointee involved in terminating the teen pregnancy program was Teresa Manning, an anti-abortion activist and Trump appointee who was in charge of the department’s family planning programs and who has publicly questioned the efficacy of several popular contraception methods. She was previously a lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee and for the Family Research Council. In January, Manning abruptly resigned.

In November, HHS announced a $10 million research initiative to ensure “any sex education programs follow the science to improve youth health and well-being,” including “sexual risk avoidance.”

Despite their popularity in some conservative regions and school districts, abstinence-only programs have been shown not to work.

A June 2005 study conducted by Case Western Reserve University found that the sexual education programs that Huber ran in Ohio promoting abstinence-only education had “critical problems.” The study suggested the program conveyed “false and misleading information” about abortion, contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections and misrepresented “religious convictions as scientific fact.”

In King County, Washington — one of the parties in the suit challenging the program’s termination — grantees created a 15-lesson sex education curriculum known as Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH).

The FLASH program educates students on options including abstinence, the use of birth control and the importance of consent before engaging in sexual activity. It is now used in 44 states and taught in every school district in King County, which has seen a 63 percent drop in teen pregnancies since 2008.

King County was granted $5 million to conduct the first scientific evaluation of the FLASH program, and now it is unable to complete the study. The $3 million already spent is now wasted taxpayer dollars, according to King County spokesman James Apa.

[NBC News]

Reality

Data shows clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S

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]

Trump officials caught seeking State Department purge

Two top House Democrats allege that high-level political appointees in the State Department and senior White House officials have worked with conservative activists to purge from the agency career officials deemed insufficiently loyal to President Trump.

A letter sent Thursday to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan alleges that political appointees at the State Department have characterized career officials in “derogatory terms.”

Among the descriptors used for certain career officials were “a leaker and a troublemaker” and a “turncoat,” the letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) reads, citing documents obtained from a whistleblower.

Those documents also contain communications with high-profile conservative activists, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and David Wurmser, a former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In one email forwarded by Gingrich to Trump-appointed officials at the State Department, Wurmser wrote that “a cleaning is in order here,” apparently referring to removing career employees believed to be disloyal to Trump.

“I hear [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson actually has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind,” Wurmser wrote.

The allegations highlight what critics have said is Trump and his aides’ intense concern about loyalty within the government, particularly in the State Department. The president and his allies have in the past suggested the existence of a “deep state” bent on undermining his agenda.

The State Department has seen a particularly significant exodus of career officials since Trump took office last year. While some of those departures were attributed to planned retirements, others have reportedly left amid dwindling morale.

The letter from Cummings and Engel points to one case, in particular — that of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh.

Nowrouzzadeh, an Iran expert and civil servant, raised concerns to her boss, Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, last year after she was targeted by an article in a conservative news outlet.

“I am and have been a career civil servant for nearly 12 years now,” she wrote in an email to Hook, noting that she began her government career under the Bush administration. “I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I’ve worked for.”

In the email, she asked Hook for advice on how to “correct the record.”

But Hook, according to the lawmakers’ letter, instead forwarded Nowrouzzadeh’s email to White House officials, and it later served as the basis for an internal discussion about her loyalty to the Trump administration that touched on her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

One email from Julia Haller, a White House liaison to the State Department at the time, falsely claimed that Nowrouzzadeh was born in Iran and alleges that she “cried when the President won” the 2016 election.

Nowrouzzadeh was eventually removed from her detail on the State Department’s policy planning staff three months early, Cummings and Engel said.

The letter requests a trove of documents and communications about the actual or proposed reassignments of career employees at the State Department related to “alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities.”

The lawmakers have asked for those materials to be turned over by March 29.

Heather Nauert, the acting undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, said on Thursday that the State Department would comply with the lawmakers’ requests, but noted that she had never witnessed any kind of disloyalty on the part of career officials at the agency.

“I have found my colleagues to be extremely professional,” Nauert said at a department press briefing. “Those on staff who have been here for many years, I have found them almost blind to politics.”

[The Hill]

Trump Has Reportedly Spoken With Witnesses About What They Told Mueller Team

President Trump has apparently spoken with witnesses who have already spoken with Robert Mueller‘s office about what they discussed… and Mueller knows.

In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said.

In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.

The conversations appear not to rise to the level of witness tampering or anything like that, but “witnesses and lawyers who learned about the conversations viewed them as potentially a problem and shared them with Mr. Mueller.”

Mueller’s team is looking into potential obstruction on the President’s part.

And by the way, the aide involved in the McGahn part of this report? The Times says it was Rob Porter.

[Mediaite]

Kellyanne Conway found to have violated Hatch Act

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on two occasions, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump administration Tuesday.

Appearing in her official capacity, Conway endorsed and advocated against political candidates, the watchdog said, referring its findings to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.”

The violations occurred during two television appearances in 2017, one on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” and one on CNN’s “New Day.”

“While the Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, it restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes, including by trying to influence partisan elections,” OSC says in its report.

“Ms. Conway’s statements during the ‘Fox & Friends’ and ‘New Day’ interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”

The report goes on to state that Conway received “significant training” on the Hatch Act and possible violations. OSC says it gave Conway, a former GOP pollster who served as Trump’s campaign manager, the opportunity to respond as part of its report, but she did not.

The White House rejected the report’s findings, saying “Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate” in a statement provided to reporters.

“In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act — as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamans to vote for the Republican,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gildley said.

Ahead of December’s special election to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate, Conway made remarks critical of then-candidate Doug Jones in his race against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

During her initial Fox appearance, Conway blasted Jones as “weak on crime” and “weak on borders,” before declining to specifically endorse Moore when asked.

“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners,” Conway said in November.

“So, vote Roy Moore?” host Brian Kilmeade interjected.

“I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” Conway responded.

In her CNN appearance in December, Conway went further, saying that Trump “doesn’t want a liberal Democrat representing Alabama” in the Senate.

“The only endorsement that matters in this race is President Trump’s,” Conway said the week before the vote. “And he came out questioning the ideology and the vote of Doug Jones. He’ll be a reliable vote for tax hikes. He’ll be a reliable vote against border security. He’ll be a reliable vote against national security and keeping [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS in retreat. He’ll be the reliable vote against the Second Amendment and against life.”

At the time, former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub called the comments a “slam dunk” violation of the Hatch Act.

“The willfulness of Conway’s violation and her openly expressed disdain for efforts to hold her accountable for complying with ethics requirements make clear that anything less than removal from the federal service or a lengthy unpaid suspension will not deter future misconduct on her part,” Shaub said.

Shaub filed two complaints with OSC over the interviews.

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah defended Conway last year after initial criticism.

“Ms. Conway did not advocate for or against the election of a candidate, and specifically declined to encourage Alabamans to vote a certain way,” Shah said in a statement.

“She was speaking about issues and her support for the president’s agenda. This election is for the people of Alabama to decide,” he added.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md.) demanded the president issue “swift and serious” punishment for the violations.

“The President must take swift and serious disciplinary action against Ms. Conway. Anything else sets a terrible example,” Cummings said in a statement.

Hatch Act violations committed by White House staff are typically handled directly by the president. Consequences for violating the law range from an official reprimand to a civil penalty of up to $1,000. Other penalties include suspension, termination or even debarment from federal employment for up to five years.

[The Hill]

Update

The White House said on Tuesday that counselor Kellyanne Conway did not violate the Hatch Act after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) told the Trump administration she was found in violation.

“Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. She simply expressed the president’s obvious position that he have people in the House and Senate, who support his agenda,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

Trump Organization orders tee markers featuring presidential seal

The Trump Organization has ordered tee markers that feature the presidential seal, which could violate a federal law dictating that the seal can only be used for government business, ProPublica reported Monday.

Sign and metalworking company Eagle Sign and Design told ProPublica that it had gotten an order to create dozens of tee markers featuring the presidential seal to be used on Trump golf courses.

One of the markers — used on courses to show golfers where they should tee off — was also displayed in a Facebook album by the company titled “Trump International Golf Course.”

The company declined to tell ProPublica who had ordered the markers. However, the publication and WNYC viewed an order form that listed the customer as “Trump International.”

“We made the design, and the client confirmed the design,” Eagle Sign owner Joseph E. Bates told ProPublica.

Several of Trump’s golf courses feature the name “Trump International,” including the West Palm Beach, Fla., course that the president frequents while he’s at his nearby Mar-a-Lago resort. Some Trump courses have featured markers with the Trump family crest.

Federal law states that the presidential seal can only be used for government business. Use of the seal otherwise can lead to criminal charges and is punishable by up to six months in prison.

The Trump Organization and the White House did not return ProPublica’s request for comment. The Department of Justice declined to comment to the publication.

Past presidents, including former President Obama, have used golf balls featuring the presidential seal while golfing in office.

The Trump Organization is being run by President Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., while their father is in office.

[The Hill]

1 2 3 8