Trump Administration Diverts $3.8 Billion In Pentagon Funding To Border Wall

The Trump administration has notified Congress that it plans to divert $3.8 billion from the Defense Department’s budget to build the border wall.

This is in addition to more than $11 billion that’s already been identified to construct more than 500 miles of new barriers along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. That includes money that Congress has appropriated and funding that was previously diverted from military construction and counternarcotic operations.

The latest funding diversion takes $1.5 billion originally allocated for buying equipment for National Guard and Reserve units, such as trucks, generators and spare parts, as well as fighter jets and ships.

This administration said the diversion of funds was in support of “higher priority items” that were “necessary in the national interest,” according to the notice transmitted to Congress. It continues:

“[The Department of Homeland Security] has identified areas along the southern border of the United States that are being used by individuals, groups, and transnational criminal organizations as drug smuggling corridors, and determined that the construction of additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border is necessary in order to impede and deny drug smuggling activities.”

The move drew bipartisan criticism, including from the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry.

“The wall should be funded, but the funding must come through the Department of Homeland Security rather than diverting critical military resources that are needed and in law,” Thornberry said in a statement.

He added that Congress must act and is weighing how to proceed.

“Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent,” he said. “The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action. I will be working with my colleagues to determine the appropriate steps to take.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accused the president of being “obsessed with fulfilling a campaign promise” while accusing the administration in a tweet of “stealing billions” from the Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the ranking member on the House Committee on Appropriations, championed the President’s decision.

She blamed Democrats for failing to work on securing the border, which in turn “forced the president to redirect funds.”

“I unequivocally support President Trump’s efforts to secure our nation’s borders and support our men and women in uniform. Democrats have refused to work with us on border security, which has forced the President to redirect funds from other defense programs in the short term in order to secure the southern border,” she said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the Department of Defense was “committed” to helping Homeland Security to construct fences and roads, and install lighting to thwart drug smuggling. He said the $3.8 billion will build more miles of barrier “to protect our borders.”

“Last month we received a new request from the Department of Homeland Security asking for assistance in blocking drug-smuggling corridors on Federal land along the southern border of the United States,” Mitchell said.

“In response, the Secretary of Defense authorized support of $3.8B to build approximately 177 miles of fencing that will help to protect our borders. We will continue to support DHS and other agencies as needed to keep our homeland is secure.”

Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York disagree.

They issued a joint statement that said Congress, not the executive branch, has the power of the purse, adding that it’s “a power that cannot be nullified so the President can fulfill an outrageous campaign promise.”

“This latest theft of nearly $4 billion in military funds represents another of President Trump’s broken promises to our servicemembers, especially our brave sailors who he assured would receive funding for urgently needed, state-of-the-art ships,” the press release said.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has redirected funds from the Pentagon to go toward a wall along the southern border.

Last March the Defense Department announced it would shift $1 billion from a military personnel account in order to pay for a 57-mile section of fencing.

The administration said at the time the dollars became available after recruiting goals of some service branches came up short of expectations.

The border wall has been controversial since then-candidate Trump made building a barrier a central pillar of his 2016 presidential campaign. He promised back then the wall would come at no cost to U.S. taxpayers and that Mexico would fully fund the project, which it has not.

In a status report last month, NPR’s John Burnett noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is overseeing the barrier construction, said the price tag for project has exceeded $11 billion dollars, making it the most expensive wall of its kind in the world.

[NPR]

Trump suggests military should consider additional discipline for Vindman

President Trump on Tuesday suggested the military should consider additional disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who provided damaging testimony against Trump in the impeachment inquiry and was reassigned from his White House job last week.

“We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Gen. Milley has him now. I congratulate Gen. Milley. He can have him.”

Gen. Mark Milley is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked specifically if the Pentagon should pursue further action against Vindman, Trump said it would be “up to the military.”

“But if you look at what happened, they’re going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that,” he said.

The president’s comments on Tuesday signaled he was open to additional punishment for officials who testified against him in the impeachment inquiry. Some of his allies have sought to cast the ouster of witnesses like Vindman as justifiable reassignments rather than retribution.

Trump added that there were more departures to come, but it was unclear if he was referring specifically to impeachment witnesses.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday signaled there would be no punishment for Vindman, saying the Pentagon protects service members from retribution. 

“We protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that. We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference with his Colombian counterpart.

Vindman had been working temporarily at the White House as a member of the national security council when he was dismissed. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was fired later the same day.

Both officials were among those who testified about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine during House impeachment inquiry hearings last year. The House ultimately impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, alleging he withheld security aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals.

The Senate acquitted Trump last week in a party-line vote.

Vindman proved to be one of Democrats’ most memorable witnesses. A Purple Heart recipient, Vindman testified that he believed Trump’s conduct on a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president was inappropriate and that he reported it to his superior.

Trump has mocked Vindman for wearing his military uniform during the hearing and complained about the contents of his testimony.

On Tuesday, the president accused Vindman of leaking and going outside the chain of command

[The Hill]

Trump Deletes Tweet Calling Bloomberg ‘TOTAL RACIST’ Over Very Same Stop & Frisk Policy He Backed in 2016

President Trump ripped 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as a “total racist” after audio released Tuesday from a 2015 speech showed the former mayor unapologetically defending his controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, which targeted young men of color.

“WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!” the commander-in-chief tweeted early Tuesday along with a link to the audio clip.

Within minutes, the tweet had been taken down.

In leaked audio of Bloomberg’s speech, the Democrat sounded defiant in his acknowledgment of how the policy targeted minority kids in minority neighborhoods, arguing that they were targeted “because that’s where all the crime is.”

“Ninety-five percent of murders, murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” Bloomberg said.

In late 2016, then-candidate Trump called for a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy during an interview with Fox News, saying the program “worked very well” for New York City.

“I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically,” the then-GOP nominee told the network.

“You understand, you have to have, in my opinion, I see what’s going on here, I see what’s going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City it was so incredible, the way it worked.

“Now, we had a very good mayor, but New York City was incredible, the way that worked, so I think that could be one step you could do,” he added.

Upon entering the Democratic primary contest in November, Bloomberg apologized for his controversial policing policy.

A spokesperson for Bloomberg’s campaign could not immediately be reached by The Post for comment on Trump’s tweet.

DOJ set to lower Stone sentencing recommendation that was criticized by Trump

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday is reportedly expected to change its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone a day after telling a federal judge the Trump associate should serve between seven and nine years in prison, guidance that was sharply criticized by President Trump.

Department officials found prosecutors’ initial recommendation “excessive,” according to multiple news outlets, including The Washington Post, Fox News and The Associated Press, citing an anonymous department source.

Reports of the expected change came after Trump denounced the recommended prison term as “horrible and very unfair” in an early Tuesday morning Tweet.  

“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Trump said, sharing a message from a Daily Caller reporter about Stone’s prison sentence.

Stone, a 67 year-old right-wing provocateur, was convicted in November of seven counts of obstructing and lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his efforts to provide the Trump campaign inside information about WikiLeaks in 2016.

Stone is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20 by D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee.

Prosecutors recommended in a Monday filing that Stone serve between 87 and 108 months in prison in accordance with federal guidelines.

“Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness,” the DOJ court filing reads. “And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law.”

Department prosecutors wrote that a sentence of up to nine years would “accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law.”

Stone’s attorneys in a Monday night filing asked that the judge impose probation as an alternative to prison.

A Stone lawyer on Tuesday said the legal team had “read with interest” the new reporting on the DOJ’s shifting position.

“Our sentencing memo stated our position on the recommendation made yesterday by the government,” attorney Grant Smith told The Hill. “We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing.”

The department will reportedly clarify its recommendation on Stone’s sentencing later Tuesday.

[The Hill]

Trump justifies firing Alexander Vindman for being “insubordinate”

President Trump tweeted on Saturday morning to explain why he fired national security official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who had testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “improper.”

“I don’t know [Vindman], never spoke to him or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly…….and was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, ‘OUT.'”

Context: Vindman was fired on Friday just before U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was dismissed. The firings took place two days after Trump was acquitted by the Senate.

  • Trump “expressed deep anger … over the attempt to remove him from office because of his actions toward Ukraine,” the Washington Post writes.

[Axios]

Reality

If any other person in America retaliated against witnesses like Donald Trump is doing, they would be in jail. But today we have a monarch.

Trump administration refuses to release all available aid to Puerto Rico despite earthquakes

The Trump administration is refusing to release all available disaster aid to Puerto Rico despite this week’s earthquakes, citing concerns about “corruption” and “financial mismanagement” on the island, the Daily News has learned.

President Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development was supposed to start disbursing $9.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico in September as part of a congressional allocation to beef up natural disaster readiness following the devastating hurricanes that battered the island in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

But HUD has to date only released about $1.5 billion of those funds, and a senior agency official said Thursday that the remainder of the relief cash won’t be released anytime soon despite a string of earthquakes that rocked the island this week and left thousands of residents without power.

“Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption and other abuses, we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most: the people of Puerto Rico,” the HUD official told The News, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.

The official did not give a timeline for when the aid will be released and downplayed the island’s need for more assistance.

“Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds,” the official said.

Congressional Democrats were outraged and said the Trump administration is breaking the law by withholding the congressionally approved money.

“The ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a Thursday press conference.

Queens-Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said HUD’s own inspector general recently concluded there’s nothing to suggest the island can’t properly manage the aid.

She also said it isn’t HUD’s prerogative to block the funds, as they were approved by Congress.

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez told The News.

Velazquez joined Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in sending a letter earlier this week to HUD Secretary Ben Carson demanding the outstanding $8.3 billion be released to Puerto Rico immediately, arguing the island needs whatever assistance it can get in the wake of the earthquakes.

Schumer said Carson had not responded as of Thursday and reiterated a call for the administration to end its “counterproductive vendetta” with Puerto Rico.

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” he said.

At least one person has died since a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Several major aftershocks have followed, destroying homes and leaving two-thirds of the island without electricity.

Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico earlier this week, opening up about $5 million in federal funds to be spent on emergency services in light of the earthquake.

But Democrats say that’s not close to enough and urged the administration to stop withholding the hurricane relief cash that was supposed to be released months ago.

“Holding these resources back means delaying the island’s economic and physical recovery, period,” Velazquez said.

Trump has had a thorny relationship with Puerto Rico’s leaders for years.

After the 2017 hurricanes, critics accused the president of racism after he expressed reluctance about releasing aid to Puerto Rico while pledging sweeping support for states like Texas and Florida when they suffered natural disasters.

Trump infamously tossed paper towels at a crowd of Puerto Ricans when he visited the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria in October 2017.


[New York Daily News]

Trump Boasts of Stock Market In Wild Tweet: ‘HOW ARE YOUR 409K’S DOING?’

President Donald Trump touched on a series of topics in his Thursday morning Twitter statements, and in the most recent one, he declared that the stock market is soaring and everyone’s “409K’S” are doing great.

“STOCK MARKET AT ALL-TIME HIGH!” Trump tweeted in all-caps. “HOW ARE YOUR 409K’S DOING? 70%, 80%, 90% up? Only 50% up! What are you doing wrong?”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1215285845336502272?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Here’s a picture of the tweet before it got deleted:

Long story short, there’s no such thing as a 409k. 401k, sure. Not 409.

[Mediaite]

Trump Wants to Keep Secret Service Travel Bill Out of Public View

The White House is desperately trying to keep President Donald Trump‘s exceptionally hefty Secret Service bill from being released in full to the public–at least not before the 2020 presidential election.

According to the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to negotiate an embargo on that information. Congressional Democrats, however, are insisting that the total amount of money spent by the public on Trump’s travels be released.

Those fierce discussions are reportedly being held in the context of a draft bill that would return the Secret Service to the purview of the Treasury Department–the traditional umbrella agency for the aptly-named law enforcement and computer crimes organization tasked with guarding the president and his family as well as other high-profile members of the U.S. government.

Founded by infamously violent union-buster Allan Pinkerton in 1865, the Secret Service initially served to combat the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. In 2003, control over the agency was gifted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks and the so-called “War on Terror.”

Mnuchin has been itching to return the Secret Service to its original home for some time and Democrats have been more than happy to oblige that request.

But congressional Democrats have one major condition: the Secret Service would have to disclose the full amount of taxpayer dollars spent on protecting Trump and his family–including his adult children Ivanka TrumpJared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.–during their frequent travels within 120 days of the bill’s passage.

Mnuchin has reportedly attempted to meet the Democrats in the middle and agreed to such disclosures on a relaxed timeline. The Mnuchin-supplied timeline, perhaps not entirely so curiously, would have the cost disclosure occur only after the 2020 election. The timing dust-up has been a point of serious contention.

Per the Post‘s report:

In a statement, the Treasury Department confirmed that Mnuchin has been working with Secret Service Director James Murray and congressional committees on a bill to transfer the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security to Treasury, but did not address the dispute about the reporting requirement.

“Conversations about the return of the Secret Service to the Treasury Department are ongoing, and we decline to comment on individual aspects of those conversations,”an anonymous Treasury official told the outlet.

But Democrats are said to be adamant and insist that the public has a right to know how much they’re paying for the Trump family’s repeat travels to their personally-owned hotels and golf resorts in Florida and New Jersey.

Why all the concern? Democrats likely view the information as an effective and useful political prize; the White House an onerous liability and embarrassment.

As Law&Crime previously reported, President Trump’s extensive golf habit has already cost the public far in excess what former president Barack Obama’s did—and Trump accomplished that feat in a stunning three years compared to Obama’s eight.

As of 2020, Trump’s golf habit alone has cost taxpayers in the ballpark of some $115 million. During Obama’s presidency, the former first family spent roughly $114 million in public funds on travel total.

As noted, Obama golfed quite a bit as well—and was often taken to task for indulgence in the country club sport.

But the Secret Service travel tab for Trump is seen as particularly problematic because he was one of Obama’s biggest critics on the golf front—using it as an attack line during the 2016 presidential election—and insisted he’d largely abandon the game if elected.

“I love golf,” then-candidate Trump told a Florida crowd in 2016, “but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t ever think I’d see Doral again. I own Doral in Miami. I don’t think I’d ever see many of the places that I have. I don’t really ever think I’d see anything–I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals.”

Now one of those would-be deals is an effort to keep his publicly-subsidized golf games on the down low.

[Law and Crime]

Trump Retweets Attack Article That Names Alleged Whistleblower

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account retweeted on Thursday a tweet by the president’s re-election campaign account, the official “Trump war room” that allegedly names the whistleblower whose complaint led Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry. 

“It’s pretty simple. The CIA ‘whistleblower’ is not a real whistleblower!” says the tweet Trump retweeted, which includes a link to a Washington Examiner piece, published Dec. 3, the alleged whistleblower’s name in the headline.

While some right-wing news outlets have named the alleged whistleblower, no major news agency has and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the United States Senate, has argued that the whistleblower’s name must remain private to protect his safety.

[Haaretz]

Trump Threatens to Expose Information on Vindman

Donald Trump on Sunday appeared to threaten to expose information on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated veteran who reportedly testified that the president omitted certain key words and phrases from the White House’s memo of the Ukraine phone call at the center of an impeachment inquiry. While speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump repeated unfounded claims that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” a label he also bestowed on former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor after his impeachment inquiry testimony outlined how Trump officials made demands of the Ukrainian government in exchange for investigations into the Bidens. 

Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and National Security Council official, reportedly testified that he was instructed by White House counsel John Eisenberg to keep quiet about the call after voicing his concerns. “It’s a whole scam… it’s between the Democrats and the fake news media,” Trump said of the inquiry. When asked what evidence he had that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” the president responded: “We’ll be showing that to you real soon.”


[The Daily Beast]


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