Trump says he will not fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act violations

President Trump said Friday he will not fire Kellyanne Conway as White House counselor for violating the Hatch Act, rebuking the recommendation of a top federal watchdog.

“No, I’m not going to fire her. I think she’s a terrific person,” Trump said during a call-in interview on “Fox & Friends.”

The president’s comments came one day after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) publicly said Conway should be removed from office, calling her a “repeat offender” who has flouted the law barring federal employees from engaging in political activity in their official duties.

The office is not related to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation.

Trump said he will “get a very strong briefing” on Conway’s Hatch Act violations, but suggested he will not recommend that she change her behavior.

“It looks to me they’re trying to take away her right from free speech and that’s just not fair,” he said.

A 17-page report submitted to the White House found that Conway violated the law in more than half a dozen television interviews and tweets by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity.”

The White House argued the OSC applied the law too broadly and violated Conway’s First Amendment rights. The Hatch Act bars the vast majority of federal employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1947 and 1973.

[The Hill]

Trump says he’d accept dirt from a foreign government to see ‘if it’s bad’

Fox & Friends knows President Trump’s got some explaining to do.

After Trump caught heat for telling ABC News that he’d be open to receiving dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, the subject inevitably came up when he called in to Fox & Friends on Friday. The hosts invited Trump to “clarify” his comments on Thursday, but his birthday-morning call didn’t do much to settle the dust.

While Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would “maybe” report information from a foreign government to the FBI, he told Fox “of course” he’d present “anything bad” to the agency.

“I don’t think anyone would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country,” he began. But if he were hypothetically offered dirt by someone who momentarily forgot about his patriotism, he would definitely check it out. “Of course you have to look at it because, if you don’t look at it, you’re not going to know if it’s bad,” he explained, suggesting a foreign government could be reaching out to let him know how great his opponent is. “But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”

While Trump previously conflated opposition research and interference from a foreign government, on Friday he only mentioned undefined “bad” information, leaving it up to interpretation exactly what would be worth reporting. He wouldn’t want “bad” things affecting an election, Trump concluded — “I thought that was made clear.” 

[The Week]

Trump says he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments

President Donald Trump says he would listen if a foreign government approached him with damaging information about a political rival — and wouldn’t necessarily report the contact to the FBI.

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Wednesday.

“I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump went on, downplaying the idea such a move by another country would amount to election interference.

Trump and his 2016 campaign have come under intense scrutiny — and a special counsel investigation — for their contacts with Russians during the last presidential election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller detailed extensive contact between Trump campaign associates and Russians, but did not conclude there was a criminal conspiracy.

Asked Wednesday whether he would take opposition research being peddled by another government, Trump said he likely would.

“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.

“Still, Trump said he wouldn’t automatically report the foreign government’s actions to US law enforcement — something he says he’s never considered doing in his lifetime.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI,” he said. “You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do.”

“Life doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.

[CNN]

Trump Admits Donald Trump Jr Called Him Before the Trump Tower Meeting With Russian Lawyer

President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech on Wednesday was notable largely just because it was so absurd, but he also dropped a piece of information about the infamous Trump Tower meeting before the 2016 election for the first time.

The president suggested that an opposition research firm was behind the Trump Tower meeting, told the press that they should be “ashamed” of themselves and announced that he won’t work with Democrats until they stop investigating him.

But, at one moment, the president said that his son, Donald Trump Jr., called him just before the famous Trump Tower meeting in which he met with a Russian lawyer.

Trump was talking about the meeting and the phone calls that were made around the time that had been scrutinized by Mueller’s team. The president said, “[Donald Trump Jr.] had the meeting and he called me and he had the meeting after.”

This is just another revelation in the long string of disclosures about that meeting. At first, President Trump told Reuters that he didn’t know about the meeting until the New York Times broke a story on it.

When the Times wrote that story, Trump Jr. released a statement. At first, the president said that he had nothing to do with the statement but, finally, the White House admitted that he at least helped his son put the statement together.

Then, in the summer of 2018, Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen said that the president knew about the meeting in advance.

The meeting is important because it took place in the summer of 2016, only a few months before the election and because Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were both in the meeting. Kushner struggled to get a security clearance because he lied about his contacts with foreign officials

But, Wednesday is the first time that the president said that he talked to Donald Trump Jr. before he went into the meeting.

[IJR]

White House directs former counsel Don McGahn not to testify before House panel

Former White House counsel Don McGahn is not expected to appear Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, defying the committee’s subpoena and setting the stage for another contempt vote to retaliate against the Trump administration for rejecting the demands of Congress.

The White House argues that as a former senior adviser to the President, he is exempt from having to appear before Congress. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that former McGahn was not legally required to appear before the House Judiciary Committee and testify about matters related to his official duties as counsel to the President, according to a memo issued Monday and obtained by CNN.

“The Department of Justice has advised me that Mr. McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that McGahn “cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly.”

“This action has been taken in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the Presidency,” she said.

The White House’s move to keep McGahn off of Capitol Hill is the latest in a slew of current and former Trump administration officials defying subpoenas from House Democrats, who are now grappling with how best to respond to the Trump administration’s blanket resistance to their investigations into the President. 

It marks the second time McGahn has not complied with the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena. He also deferred to the White House in refusing to provide documents that the committee subpoenaed related to McGahn’s special counsel interview preparations, which the White House argued were covered by executive privilege.

Nadler, a Democrat from New York, did not move to hold McGahn in contempt after he would not provide those documents, but he has made clear he is likely to do so if McGahn does not appear Tuesday. The committee is expected to hold the hearing without him, as it did earlier this month for Attorney General William Barr when he did not testify over a dispute about the hearing format.

“We’ve subpoenaed McGahn. We’re expecting him to show up on the 21st, and if he doesn’t he will be subject to contempt, unless he has a court order telling him he can’t, which I don’t think he would get,” Nadler said earlier this month.

McGahn’s testimony is of interest to Democrats in Congress because of the role that he played in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the President obstructed justice. One of the key episodes the special counsel cited in the investigation, which did not exonerate Trump, was when the President told McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn would not do so.

McGahn is now one of a number of officials who could be held in contempt by Congress.

Earlier this month, Nadler’s committee voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff says he will take an unspecified “enforcement action” against the Justice Department for not complying with the committee’s subpoena for Mueller’s counterintelligence information. And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defied the House Ways and Means Committee’s subpoena for President Donald Trump’s tax records last week.

The House is still considering how to handle contempt issues on the floor. One option being considered is to bundle up all of the contempt citations into a single vote to highlight the Trump administration’s stonewalling. Another is to invoke the House’s so-called “inherent contempt” powers to fine or jail officials who are held in contempt without using the court system, although such an action hasn’t been taken in nearly a century.

In its memo Monday, the Justice Department argued that Congress cannot use its inherent contempt powers to punish McGahn for asserting immunity, in what appears to be a preemptive challenge to House Democrats as they contemplate their next steps.

“The constitutional separation of powers bars Congress from exercising its inherent contempt power in the face of presidential assertion of executive privilege,” the memo says. “An attempt to exercise inherent contempt powers in such a circumstance would be without precedent and ‘would immensely burden the President’s ability to assert the privilege and to carry out his constitutional functions.'”

The White House’s move to block McGahn has similarities to President George W. Bush’s efforts to prevent his former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, from testifying. A federal judge in 2008 ruled against the Bush administration.

But that court ruling didn’t stop the Obama administration from making similar arguments. In 2014, the Obama administration’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a memo that a senior White House adviser subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee did not have to testify, arguing the President’s immediate advisers had “absolute immunity from congressional compulsion to testify about matters that occur during the course of discharging their official duties.”

Democrats argue the situation with McGahn is different than that case because he has already testified before the special counsel, therefore waiving executive privilege.

But the White House has argued that testifying before Mueller was different because it was a criminal investigation. And on Monday, the Justice Department said that privilege is a separate question than immunity, arguing that the precedent for claiming immunity goes back decades.

“We provide the same answer that the Department of Justice has repeatedly provided for nearly five decades: Congress may not constitutionally compel the President’s senior advisers to testify about their official duties,” DOJ wrote in its memo. “This testimonial immunity is rooted in the constitutional separation of powers and derives from the President’s independence from Congress.”

If Nadler goes to court to try to force McGahn’s testimony, it’s likely to be one of a number of judicial battles pitting congressional Democrats against the Trump administration.

Democrats’ efforts to obtain the full, unredacted Mueller report and Trump’s tax returns are also likely headed to court, and Trump and the Trump Organization have already sued to block subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, Capital One and an accounting firm that has prepared the President’s financial statements.

[CNN]

Rudy Giuliani says he’s going to Ukraine to meddle in probes in hopes of helping Trump

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he’s traveling to Ukraine to urge that country’s president-elect to push forward with investigations that he anticipates could help Trump’s re-election campaign.

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani said in an interview with The New York Times published Thursday.

According The Times, Giuliani plans to ask Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian comedian elected to lead the nation in April, to move ahead with probes involving the son of potential Trump rival Joe Biden as well inquiries related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he told the paper.

But, the former New York City mayor allowed in the interview, “Somebody could say it’s improper.”

Democrats quickly did.

“We have come to a very sorry state when it is considered OK for an American politician, never mind an attorney for the president, to go and seek foreign intervention in American politics,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to reporters Friday.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee,tweeted that Giuliani’s efforts are not only improper, but “immoral, unethical, unpatriotic and, now, standard procedure.”

Giuliani told The Times Thursday that Trump fully supports his plans.

“The President is openly asking a foreign government to investigate his political rival. This is next level,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted Friday.

Giuliani tweeted back, “Explain to me why Biden shouldn’t be investigated if his son got millions from a Russian loving crooked Ukrainian oligarch while He was VP and point man for Ukraine.”

In a text message, Giuliani told NBC News that what he’s planning is “perfectly legal” since it involves an investigation. The 2020 “election is 17 months away,” he wrote.

In recent days, Giuliani has repeatedly alleged a conspiracy involving the former vice president, who has emerged as the early front-runner in the race to be the Democratic nominee. In an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Giuliani said he stumbled upon the story by accident as he was investigating a claim he’d heard about Democratic National Committee officials “using the American embassy in Ukraine as their focal point to get dirt on Trump” and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who earned millions working for a corrupt pro-Russian political party in Ukrainefor nearly a decade.

“All of a sudden, as I’m interviewing these people, they tell me the Biden story,” Giuliani said.

The “Biden story” involves the then-vice president’s 2016 call for Ukraine to crack down on corruption, including removing a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, seen as ineffective. As Giuliani has noted, one of the cases that Shokin had been investigating involved a company called Burisma Holdings. Biden’s son Hunter Biden was on the board of the company at the time.

But Bloomberg News, citing documents and an interview with a former Ukrainian official, reported earlier this week that the Burisma investigation had been dormant for over a year when Biden called for the crackdown on corruption. PolitiFact, meanwhile, reported that it found no evidence to “support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son’s interests in mind.”

Giuliani has said, and The Times has reported, that Ukrainian prosecutors have reopened the Burisma investigation, but a spokesperson for the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office told Bloomberg that it had not done so.

That spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Hunter Biden, who stepped down from Burisma’s board last month, told The Times, “At no time have I discussed with my father the company’s business, or my board service.”

Giuliani told NBC News, “I assure you I am not trying to take him [Biden] out. I’m actually — he won’t appreciate it — but I’m doing him a favor by trying to get it investigated now. Because it wasn’t going to live through November of next year.”

The DNC has repeatedly denied working with the Ukrainian government to obtain dirt on Manafort. The incriminating Ukrainian information about Manafort that emerged during the campaign — a ledger showing $12.7 million in unreported payments from a Russia-backed Ukrainian political party — was from public records. However, Ukraine’s current top prosecutor has reportedly opened an investigation into whether the Manafort information was released in order to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Manafort, 70, is now serving a seven-and-a-half year federal prison sentence for undisclosed lobbying work in Ukraine, as well as tax and bank fraud — charges that were brought as part of Mueller’s investigation but were unconnected to Manafort’s work with the Trump campaign.

The New York Times previously reported on Giuliani’s interest in the Biden and Manafort-related inquiries as well as his meetings with Ukrainian officials about the probes. Giuliani said then he’d been keeping the president apprised of his efforts.

Trump spoke about the Biden story in an interview with Fox News last week.

“I’m hearing it’s a major scandal, major problem,” Trump said. “I hope for him it is fake news. I don’t think it is.”

[NBC News]

Trump says US is sending immigrants to sanctuary cities: ‘That was my sick idea’

President Trump said late Saturday that the U.S. is already sending immigrants to sanctuary cities and that it was his “sick idea.” 

“Last month alone, 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived at our borders, placing a massive strain on communities and schools and hospitals and public resources like nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump said during a rally in Green Bay, Wis. “Now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities. Thank you very much. They’re not too happy about it. I’m proud to tell you that was actually my sick idea.”

“What did they say? ‘We want them,'” Trump continued. “I said we’ll give em to you.”

The comments came just a day after Trump said in a speech to the National Rifle Association that the U.S. was forced to release migrants and that it gave sanctuary cities “as many as they can handle,” according to CNN

The Washington Post first reportedearlier this month that Trump administration officials had floated the idea to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The administration had reportedly unsuccessfully tried to persuade DHS to release thousands of detainees in small and midsize cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. 

The move was reportedly meant to put pressure on Democratic lawmakers. 

Trump said in a tweet on April 12 that his administration was actively considering the move. 

“The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities,” he wrote in a separate tweet on April 13. “We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known or its poor management & high taxes!”

DHS has made no formal announcement related to sending migrants to sanctuary cities or Trump’s statement. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump Tweets Wildly Inflated Death Toll for Sri Lanka Bombings

President Donald Trump botched his initial statement about the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka on Sunday morning, tweeting that the death toll was in the hundreds of millions.

“Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels that have killed at least 138 million people and badly injured 600 more. We stand ready to help!” Trump wrote in a tweet that was left up for at least 20 minutes before he corrected the number to 138, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Before noticing the error and taking the tweet down, Trump then tweeted to wish the country a “Happy Easter.”

Trump’s condolences come in the wake of a brutal series of bombings at luxury hotels and churches in Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa on Easter Sunday. The latest reported death count estimated that 207 people had been killed in the blasts.

Police have made a handful of arrests, according to CNN, but no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

[Mother Jones]

Trump hotels exempted from ban on foreign payments under new stance

The Department of Justice has adopted a narrow interpretation of a law meant to bar foreign interests from corrupting federal officials, giving Saudi Arabia, China and other countries leeway to curry favor with Donald Trump via deals with his hotels, condos, trademarks and golf courses, legal and national security experts say.

The so-called foreign emoluments clause was intended to curb presidents and other government officials from accepting gifts and benefits from foreign governments unless Congress consents.

But in a forthcoming article in the Indiana Law Journal, the Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark reveals justice department filings have recently changed tack. The new interpretation, Clark says, is contained in justice filings responding to recent lawsuits lodged by attorneys generals and members of Congress.

Clark’s article notes that in more than 50 legal opinions over some 150 years justice department lawyers have interpreted the clause in a way that barred any foreign payments or gifts except for ones Congress approved. But filings by the department since June 2017 reveal a new interpretation that “… would permit the president – and all federal officials – to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official,” the professor writes.

The justice department stance now closely parallels arguments made in a January 2017 position paper by Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon and several of her law partners. On 11 January 2017, just days before he was sworn in, Dillon said Trump isn’t accepting any payments in his “official capacity” as president, as the income is only related to his private business. “Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office,” Dillon said.

That goes against what many experts believe.

“For over a hundred years, the justice department has strictly interpreted the constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments clause to prohibit federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments, absent congressional consent,” Clark told the Guardian.

“In 2017, the department reversed course, adopting arguments nearly identical to those put forward by Trump’s private sector lawyers. Instead of defending the republic against foreign influence, the department is defending Trump’s ability to receive money from foreign governments,” Clark added.

A justice department spokesperson declined to comment, but pointed to its filings in the emoluments lawsuits which Clark has noted contain five arguments similar to those used by Trump’s business lawyers. Among the key justice arguments is that the foreign emoluments clause only was intended to prohibit the president accepting gifts and employment compensation from a foreign government, but allows him to benefit from what it calls “commercial transactions”.

Other legal scholars also voice strong qualms about the justice department’s current position on emoluments and criticize the administration’s lax attitude about conflicts involving Trump and his business empire.

“The heart of the matter is that these are clauses meant to guard against undue foreign influence and conflicts of interest,” John Mikhail, a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said.

Two attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland have filed lawsuits arguing the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where numerous foreign and state delegations have stayed or hosted events, has violated the anti corruption clauses. Some 200 members of Congress have also filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries.

The inspector general at the General Services Administration, which oversees the government-owned Old Post Office building leased by the Trump International Hotel, has faulted the agency for “improperly ignoring (the) emoluments clauses” and for conflicts of interest involving the hotel while Trump is in office.

Former intelligence officials also expressed concerns. “There’s a perception among lobbyists for foreign governments that the White House is for sale,” said Robert Baer, a 21 year CIA veteran with a Middle East background. “It’s a counter intelligence nightmare.”

The Trump Organization did pledge that while Trump was president it would donate any profits from foreign entities to the treasury. To that end it has written checks for $342,000 to the government covering the years 2017 and 2018. But some ethics watchdogs have questioned the methodology for calculating these payments, arguing it doesn’t account for foreign revenues to Trump businesses which overall have had yearly losses.

Further critics note that while Trump opted to let his two sons run his real estate businesses, and pledged he would not be involved with it as long as he was president, he has not been shy about publicly touting his properties including his Scottish golf course. Advertisement

A chief focus of critics and the emolument lawsuits has been the Trump International Hotel which has become a mini mecca for numerous foreign delegations – including ones from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Turkey and the Philippines – who have used it for overnight stays and various meetings.

The hotel is leased from the GSA for 60 years and located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House. The IG’s report this January said the lease should have been reviewed again with Trump’s election to determine if it was in violation of the emoluments clause.

Critics of Trump’s ongoing ties to the Trump International and his business empire also note that some countries with major political and business problems in Washington have frequented his properties. “It appears that President Trump may be benefiting from foreign use of his properties designed to influence his decisions,” said the former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards.

For instance, a 60-person Malaysian government delegation stayed at Trump International in the fall of 2017 at a time when the justice department was conducting a major corruption investigation of Malaysian officials including the then prime minister, Najib Razak, who had a White House meeting with Trump during their stay, as first reported by radio station WAMU and Reveal.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent at least $270,000 at his DC hotel after Trump won the election, booking 500 rooms over an estimated three-month period, according to a Washington Post report.

Last March, a Saudi delegation traveling with the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemed to enjoy a lavish stay at Trump’s New York hotel, which helped to reverse a two-year revenue decline at the property, according to the Washington Post.

These foreign dealings with Trump hotels are exhibit A for many critics of the weak kneed enforcement of the emoluments clause in the Trump era.

“This administration gives off every appearance of turning the White House into a giant cash register,” said Mikhail. “ Rather than drawing bright lines between the Trump Organization and the Trump administration they seem intent on blurring those lines.”

The lawsuits have to wend their way through the courts – which could see tough battles given mixed court rulings thus far. But critics in Congress and outside are raising more questions about emoluments and Trump’s business conflicts as new issues keep arising.

“Congress now must conduct independent oversight so the American people can determine for themselves whether the President is acting in our nation’s best interests or his own,” said congressman Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House committee on oversight and reform.

Mike Carpenter, who served on the National Security Council in the Obama years, added: “When foreign powers patronize the president’s businesses it creates an enormous national security risk.”

[The Guardian]

Trump told CBP head he’d pardon him if he were sent to jail for violating immigration law

During President Donald Trump’s visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago, where he told border agents to block asylum seekers from entering the US contrary to US law, the President also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail as a result of blocking those migrants from entering the US, the President would grant him a pardon, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he “would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants,” as one of the officials paraphrased.

It was not clear if the comment was a joke; the official was not given any further context on the exchange.The White House referred CNN to the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS spokesman told CNN, “

At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal. Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law.”

[CNN]

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