Sarah Huckabee Sanders warns reporter not to question a 4-star general amid mounting John Kelly controversy

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sidestepped questions about the validity of chief of staff John Kelly’s claim that Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida had bragged about securing funds for an FBI field office in 2015.

“[Kelly] said there was a lot of grandstanding,” Sanders said during Friday’s White House press briefing. “He was stunned she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.”

When pressed as to whether Kelly could elaborate further, Sanders said he “addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.”

But the reporter noted that the money was secured before Wilson was in Congress, which prompted Sanders to invoke Kelly’s military career.

“If you want to go after General Kelly that’s up to you but I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.

After Wilson suggested that President Donald Trump was inappropriate on a phone call with the widow of a US Special Forces soldier killed in Niger, Kelly criticized the Democratic congresswoman in an attempt to clarify the White House’s account of the call.

On Friday, the South Florida Sun Sentinel released a video of Wilson’s speech, which showed that she did not brag about securing the buildings funds, but did boast about rushing through Congress the renaming of the building in honor of two fallen FBI agents, Jerry L. Dove and Benjamin P. Grogan.

[Business Insider]

Reality

Old tweets posted by President Trump in which he attacked generals resurfaced Friday after the White House said it was “inappropriate” to criticize them.

Media

 

Trump calls lawmaker ‘wacky,’ says she told ‘total lie’ about military call

President Donald Trump on Thursday again rebutted a Florida congresswoman’s account of a call between him and the widow of a soldier killed in Niger, accusing her of listening in on the conversation and telling a “total lie” to the media.

“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” the president tweeted late Thursday.

The comments come as another direct rebuke of Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, who on Tuesday said that during a call with the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, Trump had said that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”

Trump on Wednesday morning quickly denied the claims, saying Wilson “totally fabricated” the comments and that he had “proof” to the contrary — proof he has yet to unveil. Wilson returned fire by calling Trump “a liar” and saying that the conversation had been put on speakerphone and overheard by four witnesses.

“The sad part about it is, he didn’t know La David’s name,” Wilson told POLITICO on Wednesday.

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the mother of the soldier’s mother, told The Washington Post Wednesday that she was present during the call and that she stood by Wilson’s description.

The White House said Wednesday that it did not have a recording of the conversation.

The nasty exchange between public officials ignited a furor over the White House’s response to fallen military officers, just days after Trump insinuated that his predecessors had not always extended the same courtesies to military families while in office.

White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday delivered an impassioned defense of the president’s conversation with the Johnson family, but also didn’t deny that Trump uttered the words that Wilson said he used. Kelly did rebuke Wilson, calling her “selfish” for criticizing the president’s words during a condolence call.

“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” he told reporters at the White House press briefing. “A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife — and in his way tried to express that opinion that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero.”

[Politico]

Trump blasts media for ignoring stories on Russia uranium deal

President Donald Trump complained Thursday that the “fake media doesn’t want to follow” news related to an Obama-era sale of uranium deal involving the Russian government, resurfacing an issue he spoke of often on the campaign trail to attack Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!” the president wrote online Thursday.

The controversy, which centers around a 2010 sale that put the Russian government in control of more than 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply, made its way back into the spotlight this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee opened a fresh investigation on the matter. That probe was triggered by a story published by The Hill reporting that the FBI had uncovered Russian nuclear officials were engaged in an array of illegal activities in the U.S., including bribery, extortion and kickbacks.

Trump often used the uranium deal during last year’s presidential campaign in an effort to paint Clinton as corrupt, pointing to donations made to the Clinton Global Initiative as an indication that she approved the sale to appease donors.

But while the State Department was one of the agencies involved in approving the uranium deal, both the Clinton campaign and officials from the department have said that the former secretary of state was not involved in the approval process because such matters did not rise to her level within the department.

[Politico]

Reality

As Vox points out, the political reason Trump is embracing both of these stories is clear enough: He’s trying to cast Russia-related dirt on both Democrats and the FBI (which he views as part of a “deep state” unfairly persecuting him), to try to discredit the investigation as a whole, and to change the subject from the question of whether any of his associates colluded with the Russian government during the campaign

Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, told The Washington Post that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer in a suspected insider attack June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds another dimension to the president’s relations with Gold Star families, an honorific given to those whose loved ones die while serving in support of the nation’s wars. The disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to grieving military families.

The Washington Post contacted the White House about Baldridge’s account on Wednesday morning. Officials declined to discuss the events in detail.

But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 and found that his interactions with them vary. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.

The president’s response shocked him.

“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

The president has faced worsening backlash since details emerged of his phone call Tuesday with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed Oct. 4 alongside three other U.S. soldiers in Niger. After not addressing the incident for 12 days, Trump on Monday falsely claimed that previous presidents never or rarely called the families of fallen service members. In fact, they did so regularly.

[Washington Post]

Trump: Ask Gen. Kelly If Obama Called When His Son Died

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his false claim that his predecessor didn’t call the families of soldiers killed in action by alluding to former Gen. John Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan.

“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said in a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade.

Kelly, who came on as Trump’s chief of staff in July, does not often speak about the son he lost in 2010. 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, 29, was killed in combat in Afghanistan after stepping on a landmine.

“I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters and I also call,” Trump said, adding he has called “virtually everybody” during his past nine months as commander in chief.

Trump’s comments Tuesday come a day after he falsely claimed that President Barack Obama did not call the families of soldiers killed in action after being asked why he had not yet addressed the deaths of American troops killed in Niger earlier this month.

When pressed by NBC News on how he could make that claim, Trump said he was told that Obama “didn’t often” call families of fallen soldiers.

“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do — all I can do is ask my generals,” he said.

According to a 2011 profile in The Boston Globe, Kelly has avoided speaking publicly about his son so as not to draw attention.

“We are not inclined to make ourselves out to be any different, just because I’m a lieutenant general in the Marines,” Kelly said then. “We are just one family. It’s not worse for us; it’s not easier for us.”

A White House official told NBC News on Tuesday that Obama did not call Kelly after the death of his son. But a person familiar with the breakfast for Gold Star Families at the White House on May 30, 2011, told NBC News that Kelly and his wife attended the private event and were seated at first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

A former senior Obama administration official disputed Trump’s initial claim on Monday that Obama didn’t call Gold Star families, calling it “wrong.”

“President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country,” the ex-official told NBC.

Trump said Tuesday that he had to allow a little time to pass but he “will be calling, have called, and will be calling the parents and loved ones, wives of the soldiers that recently were killed.”

The White House said later that the president was scheduled to call the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger on Tuesday.

[NBC News]

Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery effort

Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a “disaster before hurricanes,” Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay “forever.”

Three weeks after Maria made landfall, much of Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million people, remains without power. Residents struggle to find clean water, hospitals are running short on medicine, and commerce is slow, with many businesses closed.

Trump on Thursday sought to shame the territory for its own plight. He tweeted, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” And he quoted Sharyl Attkisson, a television journalist, as saying, “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

He also wrote: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló responded with his own tweet, saying Puerto Ricans were seeking the support “any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation.”

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of the capital city, San Juan, who has been feuding publicly with Trump, strongly condemned the president Thursday in a tweet calling him a “Hater in Chief” and in a lengthy statement sent to reporters and members of Congress. She said the president’s actions “are unbecoming of a leader of the free world,” and she argued that he “is simply incapable of understanding the contributions, the sacrifices and the commitment to democratic values that Puerto Ricans have shown over decades.”

Cruz pleaded with “every American that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico and let this President know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE.”

The White House issued a statement Thursday committing for now “the full force of the U.S. government” to the Puerto Rico recovery, though noting that “successful recoveries do not last forever.”

“Our job in any disaster affected location is to help the community respond and recover from that disaster,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We continue to do so with the full force of the U.S. government and its resources in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and other affected areas. Successful recoveries do not last forever; they should be as swift as possible to help people resume their normal lives. We are committed to helping Puerto Rico. Our administration is working with Governor Rosselló and Congress to identify the best fiscally responsible path forward.”

Trump has been roundly criticized for his leadership in coming to Puerto Rico’s aid. In response, the president has tried to portray the territory as in full recovery mode and has voiced frustration with what he considers mismanagement by local officials.

During a visit last week, the president tossed rolls of paper towels at local residents as if shooting baskets, drawing scorn from local leaders. He also complained that the recovery efforts had “thrown our budget a little out of whack,” and noted that the death toll was lower than the “real catastrophe” of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005.

Trump’s threats to limit the emergency worker footprint in Puerto Rico come as the House is set to vote Thursday on a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes provisions to avert a potential cash crisis in Puerto Rico prompted by Hurricane Maria.

Rosselló warned congressional leaders over the weekend that the U.S. territory is “on the brink of a massive liquidity crisis that will intensify in the immediate future.” The legislation set for a vote allows up to $4.9 billion in direct loans to local governments in a bid to ease Puerto Rico’s financial crunch.

Without congressional action, the territory may not be able to make its payroll or pay vendors by the end of the month.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said that Puerto Rico must eventually “stand on its own two feet,” but that the federal government needs to continue to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

“We’re in the midst of a humanitarian crisis,” Ryan said. He added, “Yes, we need to make sure that Puerto Rico can begin to stand on its own two feet. … But at the moment there is a humanitarian crisis has to be attended to and this is an area where the federal government has a responsibility, and we’re acting on it.”

Top Democrats assailed Trump for his Thursday tweets on Puerto Rico. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump’s tweets “heartbreaking,” adding that “we are all Americans, and we owe them what they need.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “There is still devastation, Americans are still dying. FEMA needs to stay until the job is done.”

Another New York Democrat, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, said in a statement that the president’s “most solemn duty is to protect the safety and the security of the American people. By suggesting he might abdicate this responsibility for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump has called into question his ability to lead. We will not allow the federal government to abandon Puerto Rico in its time of need.”

Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), said that those who live on the island “are American citizens and they deserve the federal assistance they need to recover and rebuild. The Chairman and the Committee fully stand by them in these efforts, and will continue to be at the ready to provide the victims of these devastating hurricanes with the necessary federal resources both now and in the future.”

Frelinghuysen is scheduled to be part of a delegation led by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that will visit Puerto Rico on Friday to see the hurricane’s devastation firsthand.

The president’s tweets on Thursday seemed to contradict Vice President Pence, who during a visit to the island last week vowed that the administration would be with Puerto Rico “every step of the way.”

“I say to all of you gathered here today to the people of Puerto Rico: We are with you, we stand with you, and we will be with you every single day until Puerto Rico is restored bigger and better than ever before,” he said.

Trump himself made a similar promise, saying in a Sept. 29 speech, “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.” He added: “These are great people. We want them to be safe and sound and secure. And we will be there every day until that happens.”

Arelis R. Hernández in Puerto Rico and Mike DeBonis in Washington contributed to this report.

[The Washington Post]

Trump threatens NBC, then says it’s ‘disgusting’ press can ‘write whatever it wants’

President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon that he found it “frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

Asked later whether he believed there “should be limits on what the press should write” — which would likely conflict with the First Amendment, which guarantees both free expression and a free press — Trump said, “No. The press should speak more honestly.”

Still, his comment raised eyebrows, especially because it was the latest remark in a string of heightened attacks Trump has leveled against the press in recent days.

Just Wednesday morning, Trump had tweeted that media companies which report critically on him should be punished by having their television station licenses revoked.

In a tweet, the president decried the supposed “fake news coming out of NBC and the Networks.” He asked, “At what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Trump seems to have been furious over an NBC News report that said he wanted a tenfold increase in the U.S.’ nuclear arsenal. Earlier in the morning he claimed the story was “pure fiction” and “made up to demean.”

Trump’s veiled threat may contribute to the increasingly chilly atmosphere journalists in the U.S. are working under during his administration. But his threat is essentially toothless.

First of all, there is no single license for NBC or any other national television network. Licenses are granted to individual local stations — and NBC doesn’t even own most of the stations that broadcast its content across the country. And it is extremely unusual for any station’s license to be taken away for any reason, much less for a political vendetta.

The licenses for local television stations are subject to review by the Federal Communications Commission every eight years.

It would not be possible for Trump or his allies to challenge all of the licenses held by NBC in one fell swoop. Individuals who reside in the areas the local channel airs would have to submit complaints to the FCC.

There is precedent for political allies of a president challenging local licenses. It happened under Richard Nixon in the 1970s, when a friend of Nixon’s tried to take over a license held by the Washington Post. Nixon’s ally did not succeed in his bid.

Short of gross misconduct on the part of a challenged station, it’s unlikely any other such attempt now would be successful either.

“Whatever other legal problems [NBC parent] Comcast may have, this is not one of them,” Andrew Jay Schwartzman, an attorney who works at the Georgetown University Law Center and specializes in telecommunications law, told CNN. “Comcast knows full well that the FCC will never, ever, deny its license renewal applications.”

The FCC is technically an independent body, not subject to the president’s orders. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — who is a Republican appointed to his current post by Trump — said in March that his job is not to be a “political actor.”

“It is simply to be somebody at the FCC who, as I said, is administering the laws of the United States,” Pai said. “I’m simply not going to wade into that kind of political debate.”

Neither Pai nor an FCC spokesperson immediately responded to requests for comment about Trump’s tweet. But former FCC officials were quick to skewer the president.

“To me it’s just incomprehensible that because of the content of NBC News that somehow their license would be at risk,” Alfred Sykes, a Republican who served as chairman of the FCC under George H.W. Bush, told The Wrap.

“This madcap threat, if pursued, would be blatant and unacceptable intervention in the decisions of an independent agency,” echoed Michael Copps, a Democrat who served as FCC commissioner under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, in a statement to HuffPost. “The law does not countenance such interference. President Trump might be happier as emperor, but I think the American people would strip him of his clothes on this issued.

A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment.

Trump has increased his attacks on the media in the past week. Last week, he urged the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate news outlets for publishing supposed “fake” stories. Over the weekend, he hinted it was perhaps time for a law that would require broadcasters to give equal time to both sides of the political debate when discussing public policy.

“At what point are we going to silence media critical of the President?” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “When we cease to have a First Amendment and a democratic government.”

[CNN]

Media

A college professor criticized Trump. Now the White House wants an investigation

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants the University of Las Vegas to investigate one of its professors after she strongly criticized President Donald Trump and the consequences of his election as the city reeled from the mass shooting.

Recordings of assistant professor Tessa Winkelmann showed her speaking to her class about the president’s violent rhetoric and the power of his words.

“Right when he got elected, I told my classes, three semesters ago, that some of us won’t be affected by this presidency, but others are going to die,” Winkelmann said in the video, obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Other people will die because of this.”

One student was “dumbfounded” and said the professor’s comments were “appalling,” in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Review-Journal reported.

“He’s [Trump] threatened to declare violence against North Korea and other places,” the professor added. “And words, especially if they’re coming from someone who is the president, have consequences. . . I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected, but he has rhetorical powers every president has to encourage or to discourage (violence). So far all he’s done is to encourage violence.”

The White House condemned the comments and said the school should “look into” the professor’s actions.

“It is sad she is teaching students such divisive, inaccurate and irresponsible rhetoric,” Sanders said. “She should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students.”

Winkelmann apologized in an emailed statement to the Review-Journal and said she wished she had been “more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation.”

“This week has been very difficult for members of our community, and we have allowed students space in our classes to discuss how they have been affected and to openly convey their feelings,” she wrote. “I regret that my comments caused more pain during this difficult time. Emotions were running high and I wish I would have been more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation.”

UNLV issued a statement that said Winkelmann’s comments were insensitive, but did not announce any potential disciplinary action against her.

“While we respect academic freedom in the classroom and the right to free speech, we believe the comments were insensitive, especially given the series of events this week and the healing process that has begun in the community,” university spokesman Tony Allen said, according to the Review-Journal.

Unfortunately this is not the first time the White House has commented on civilians who are outspoken in their criticism of the president. On Tuesday morning the president once again attacked the recently suspended ESPN anchor Jemele Hill as part of his long-running crusade against NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem in protest of social and racial injustice.

Press secretary Sanders also previously said Hill had committed a “fireable offense” when the anchor called the president a white supremacist on Twitter.

Conservatives have long advocated for free speech on college campuses, yet have remained quiet when the White House suggested disciplinary action be taken against a professor who was well within her free speech rights.

[Salon]

Trump threatens to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license for reporting he wants tenfold increase in nukes

President Donald Trump angrily lashed out at NBC News over its report that he wanted to dramatically increase the United States’ nuclear arsenal by threatening to go after the network’s broadcasting license.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning. “Bad for country!”

The president also said that NBC “made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold” increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal,” which he described as “pure fiction, made up to demean.”

According to the original NBC report, Trump “said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest ranking national security leaders.” The president was reportedly incensed by a chart showing that the U.S. has actually been reducing its nuclear arsenal since the late 1960s.

According to NBC’s sources, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” after this particular meeting. Additionally, the sources claim both Tillerson and the joint chiefs of staff pushed back against Trump, and told him why it would be unwise to start a massive nuclear arms race.

[Raw Story]

Reality

The president’s and the government’s power in this area could be limited anyway. According to the FCC’s own guidelines, the commission only licenses individual broadcast stations, not entire “TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox).”

Trump offers to ‘compare IQ tests’ with Tillerson after ‘moron’ report

President Trump in a new interview offered to compare IQ tests with Rex Tillerson after reports that the secretary of State had called him a “moron.”

“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump told Forbes in an interview published Tuesday.

“And I can tell you who is going to win.”

Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and considered leaving the administration, according to an NBC News report earlier this month.

In a press conference last week, Tillerson denied he ever considered leaving the administration.

He did not directly deny that he called Trump a “moron,” but the State Department later said the report wasn’t true.

Trump tweeted last week that his secretary of State never threatened to resign, referred to the report as “fake news” and called for NBC News to apologize.

The relationship between Trump and Tillerson has reportedly grown more tense in recent months.

Trump said Saturday he sometimes wishes Tillerson would “be a little tougher.”

[The Hill]

Reality

The State Department released a statement saying Rex Tillerson’s IQ was “high.” This is where we are at now.

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