Trump asked Rosenstein about Russia probe, if he was on Trump’s ‘team’

President Trump reportedly asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was on Trump’s “team” at a December meeting.

CNN reported that Rosenstein met with Trump in hopes of getting his support against House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was seeking sensitive documents for his classified memo purporting to detail surveillance abuses by the government.

At the meeting, Trump reportedly asked Rosenstein about the direction of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and asked directly if Rosenstein was “on my team.”

Rosenstein replied, “of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” according to CNN’s sources.

Trump has considered firing Rosenstein in recent weeks according to a recent CNN report, telling aides “let’s fire him.” Rosenstein is the top Justice Department official in charge of the Russia investigation.

[The Hill]

Trump ‘asked acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe how he voted’

After firing James Comey as director of the FBI, US President Donald Trump asked the agency’s deputy director whom he had voted for, US media report.

Andrew McCabe, who had just become the agency’s acting chief after the surprise dismissal last year, said that he did not vote in the 2016 election.

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Mr Comey’s firing was an attempt to obstruct justice.

Mr Mueller leads the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

During Mr McCabe’s introductory meeting with the president after he took over the federal law enforcement agency, Mr Trump also allegedly expressed anger with Mr McCabe over his wife’s ties to the Clinton family.

Mr McCabe reportedly found the conversation “disturbing”, according to the Washington Post.

Jill McCabe, a failed Democratic candidate for the Virginia state senate, had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a political action committee controlled by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally.

Last July, Mr Trump told the New York Times: “We have a director of the FBI, acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton.”

He also erroneously claimed in a subsequent tweet that Mr McCabe had led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email during her time as US secretary of state.

Mr McCabe had recused himself from any investigations involving Virginia political figures, but Republicans have questioned why he was allowed to be involved in the investigations into Mrs Clinton’s emails, claiming he has a conflict of interest.

The FBI has said that Mrs McCabe’s campaign had ended months before Mr McCabe became involved in that investigation, which he later recused himself from as the date of the presidential election neared.

[BBC News]

FBI director Chris Wray replaces Comey holdover with Trump loyalist amid pressure from AG Sessions to ‘clean house’

FBI Director Christopher Wray has announced the replacements for two top FBI jobs that worked under ex-director James Comey, amid pressure from the attorney general and White House to “clean house” during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was named as the replacement for former FBI general counsel James Baker, who “was reassigned late last year.” He also appointed Zachary J. Harmon, a colleague from the law firm he worked for prior to taking the helm of the bureau, as his new chief of staff after his old one, Jim Rybicki, left to take a private sector job.

Baker’s reassignment in December came amid right-wing media speculation that he “leaked” information from the bureau and was an ally to Comey, who defended him on Twitter in the days after he was moved to a different position.

Boente, the Post noted, may be seen as a loyalist for President Donald Trump despite being appointed to his U.S. attorney position President Barack Obama. After acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to back Trump’s travel ban, Boente stepped forward to defend it.

The announcement of the filled positions came after reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pressuring Wray to reshuffle positions in the bureau. Yesterday, Axios reported that Wray threatened to quit if he were forced to fired Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a foe of the Trump administration despite being appointed as acting director of the bureau following Comey’s firing.

[Raw Story]

Pence’s chief of staff suggested wealthy donors ‘purge’ anti-Trump Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence‘s chief of staff Nick Ayers on Tuesday encouraged wealthy Republican donors to “purge” GOP lawmakers who haven’t supported President Trump’s agenda by finding and supporting their primary challengers.

According to a new report by Politico, Ayers made the comments to donors during a closed-door Republican National Committee (RNC) event in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Ayers told the donors to hold anti-Trump Republicans’ feet to the fire, saying they must get items of Trump’s agenda complete or face primary challengers in 2018.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers said, according to Politco. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, number one. And number two, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass,” Ayers continued, “we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him… Because, look, if we’re going to be in the minority again we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

Ayers, a longtime adviser to Pence, was appointed his chief of staff in June. The Georgia native was Pence’s chief political strategist during his time as governor of Indiana, and the two have a close friendship.

“During my years as governor, then as a candidate and serving as vice president, I have come to appreciate Nick’s friendship, keen intellect and integrity and I couldn’t be more excited to have him come to the White House as my chief of staff,” Pence said in July upon Ayers’ appointment to the White House.

[The Hill]

Interior Secretary: One-third of employees ‘not loyal to the flag’

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly said Monday that nearly a third of his department’s employees are not “loyal to the flag” or President Trump.

“I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Zinke told the National Petroleum Council during a speech, according to The Associated Press.

“We do have good people” Zinke added. “But the direction has to be clear and you’ve got to hold people accountable.”

Trump and some of his allies have complained of an entrenched federal bureaucracy that they say has worked to stop — or at least slow — the president’s agenda.

The Interior secretary’s comments about the American flag came amid a feud between Trump and the NFL over the president’s criticism of players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

Trump sparked the controversy during a campaign rally in Alabama last Friday, saying that professional athletes who protest during the anthem should be fired.

Many NFL teams responded by asserting players’ right to free speech, and many players kneeled during the anthem during Sunday’s games. Some teams, like the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, refused to appear on the field for the anthem altogether.

Some critics have claimed that the president’s comments are racially motivated.

But Trump has stood by his criticism and sought to cast his rhetoric only as a defense of the U.S. and its flag.

“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” he tweeted Monday. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”

[The Hill]

Reality

This should be very troubling that a government department head who oversees tens of thousands of non-partisan positions claims that there will be a loyalty test, and people will lose their job if they do not swear loyalty to Donald Trump.

This is third-world authoritarian stuff.

Trump Fires Long-Time Rally Organizer After Phoenix Speech

President Trump reprimanded the aide responsible for organizing his August rally in Phoenix, Ariz., after being disappointed by the results and coverage, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Trump’s team reportedly informed George Gigicos, a contractor to the Republican National Committee, that he would not be hired in such a capacity again after the president was apparently left underwhelmed by the optics and crowd size of the event.

Gigicos, a longtime Trump aide who had previously served as the president’s director of scheduling and advance, declined to comment to Bloomberg.

Roughly 10,000 people were present when Trump spoke on Aug. 23, according to the Arizona Republic. But Trump saw TV coverage before he ever took the stage indicating the Phoenix Convention Center was less than full.

The president used the speech to deliver a blistering assault on the media after a week of fierce criticism directed at him over his response to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The Bloomberg report comes amid a string of high-profile departures by former Trump aides, including special assistant Sebastian Gorka and chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

According to Bloomberg, Gigicos was one of Trump’s four longest-serving political aides.

[The Hill]

Trump Rips Sessions on Twitter, While He Attends a White House Meeting

The one-sided feud between President Donald Trump and his attorney general persisted Wednesday, even as a battered Jeff Sessions trudged ahead with his Justice Department duties.

Less than an hour after Sessions was deposited at the White House by a black SUV for routine meetings in the West Wing, Trump proclaimed from another corner of the same building that his displeasure in his attorney general hasn’t waned.

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives,” he tweeted. “Drain the Swamp!”

The message, which stretched facts, was the latest chapter in a humiliating ordeal for the nation’s top law enforcement official, who has refused to resign even amid the increasingly hostile barbs being issued by his boss. Over the past two days, Trump has deemed his attorney general “beleaguered” and “very weak.” His anger has stemmed from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an FBI investigation into Russian election meddling.

Even as Sessions was attending a so-called “principals small group meeting” in the West Wing on Wednesday, Trump — who remained in his private residence — declined to confront his attorney general face-to-face. Some of Trump’s aides have encouraged the President to speak with Sessions directly, rather than angrily lambast him over Twitter, but that advice appeared to go unheeded Wednesday morning.

Speaking on CNN, Trump’s newly installed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci defended the President’s tactics for communicating his ire, saying Sessions was likely among Trump’s Twitter followers and thus a direct recipient of his messages.

“Jeff Sessions is probably one of the 113 million people” who follow Trump online, he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Sessions, however, doesn’t maintain an active Twitter account, and his campaign account — @JeffSessions — hasn’t posted since 2014. That account doesn’t follow Trump.

The disconnect between the two men has caused deep consternation among some members of Congress, who question Trump’s public needling of Sessions while stopping short of firing him.

“I would fire somebody that I did not believe could serve me well rather than trying to humiliate him in public, which is a sign of weakness,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, on Wednesday. “I would just go ahead and say, ‘I appreciate your service, you need to be fired.’ ”

Despite Trump’s attacks, Sessions has no plans to resign, sources have told CNN. Instead, he’s forging ahead with his duties as attorney general, including routine meetings with administration officials at the White House.

His vehicles were spotted around 9 a.m. ET at the West Wing, where he regularly meets with fellow officials. He was not expected to meet with Trump. He departed about 90 minutes later, striding stone-faced wearing a dark checked suit to his car, toting a briefing binder in his right hand.

The President, meanwhile, wasn’t officially scheduled to begin his workday until 10:30 a.m. ET, and wasn’t present in the West Wing while Sessions was there.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, said later Wednesday that Sessions did not meet with the President while he was at the White House.

“The President’s been very clear about where he is,” Sanders said. “He is obviously disappointed.”

“You can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job,” she added.

Trump’s message on Twitter revived a convoluted and largely debunked criticism of Sessions and McCabe, who has served in the acting FBI position since Trump abruptly fired Comey in May. Trump interviewed McCabe for the permanent role, but eventually chose Christopher Wray, whose nomination is pending in the Senate.

McCabe’s wife, who ran for a position in the Virginia legislature in 2015, received a large donation from a political action committee affiliated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. But there’s no evidence that she received donations from Clinton herself. The donation also predated the point at which McCabe assumed oversight responsibilities for the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. McCabe consulted ethics officers at the FBI before his wife’s run.

Aside from concerned lawmakers and members of his staff, the prolonged standoff between Trump and Sessions, a former US senator who endorsed Trump early in his campaign, has also drawn criticism from some conservative media outlets, who still regard Sessions as an essential right-wing voice within the administration.

Sessions himself sought to highlight those credentials Tuesday, announcing that “sanctuary cities” would be ineligible for key law enforcement grants. And he soon plans to announce a stepped-up effort to go after leakers, a project that Trump himself has pressed.

But those efforts may not be sufficient to overcome Trump’s anger, which has been simmering for months but which he first revealed publicly in a New York Times interview last week.

Publicly, Trump’s aides say Sessions is merely experiencing a regular facet of Trump’s personality — one that values loyalty and isn’t for the weak of heart.

“I’m telling my fellow teammates here in the West Wing and my fellow friends that happen to be Cabinet secretaries that this is his style and nature,” Scaramucci said on CNN. “You’ve got to have a very tough skin to work for and deal with the President.”

Asked about Sessions’ uncertain fate during a news conference on Tuesday, Trump offered only caprice.

“We will see what happens,” he said in the Rose Garden. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”

[CNN]

Scaramucci Threatens to ‘Fire Everybody’ to Stop White House Leaks

President Donald Trump’s newly appointed communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said Tuesday that he is prepared to “fire everybody” in the White House communications shop in order to put an end to embarrassing internal leaks.

The financier and longtime Trump surrogate is eager to shake up the communications shop, which has been dominated by former Republican National Committee staffers loyal to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, a former RNC chairman.

Scaramucci confirmed to POLITICO early Tuesday that he planned to start by dismissing assistant press secretary Michael Short at a morning meeting, but that move was apparently delayed.

Short, who initially said Tuesday that he hadn’t yet been informed of any decision, resigned Tuesday afternoon.

Short’s ouster is Scaramucci’s first warning shot to White House aides who have been perceived as disloyal to the president. In an echo of Trump’s not-so-subtle warning to Jeff Sessions about his status as attorney general, Scaramucci’s vow to “fire everybody” is a warning to staffers perceived as leakers.

“I’m going to fire everybody, that’s how I’m going to do it,” Scaramucci said to reporters outside of the White House on Tuesday. “You’re either going to stop leaking or you’re going to be fired.”

He claimed to have the full authority of the president to clean out the communications shop and put his own stamp on the team. A source close to Scaramucci said that he’s planning to bring in people from the corporate communications world in addition to conservative broadcast stars.

Scaramucci also told reporters outside the White House that it “upsets” him that Short would find out about any changes to his employment through the media.

“This is the problem with the leaking,” he said. “This is actually a terrible thing. Let’s say I’m firing Michael Short today. The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic.”

He has pledged to put a stop to the leaks that have flowed out of the White House, especially those that have come from the press operation.

Scaramucci earlier said to POLITICO that Short would be the first dismissal of many, if he’s not able to stop the leaks coming out of the communications and press shop.

“I’m committed to taking the comms shop down to Sarah [Huckabee Sanders] and me, if I can’t get the leaks to stop,” Scaramucci told POLITICO.

During his first day in the White House on Monday, Scaramucci met with current communications staffers and warned about leaks coming from the office. “I offered amnesty in the meeting, but that decision is above my rank,” Scaramucci added.

Short said he had not been involved in any leaks. “Allegations I ever leaked anything are demonstrably false,” Short said.

Short is expected to be the first in a wave of staffers closely aligned with Priebus to be shown the door.

He was closely aligned with press secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned on Friday after Scaramucci was appointed to the communications role. Short was scorned by many of his colleagues for quitting the Trump campaign, only to rejoin as a White House staffer because of Priebus.

In a story often retold by campaign staffers, they arrived at Trump Tower one morning, months before the election, to see Short’s computer left open on his otherwise empty desk.

The next time he was seen by former campaign staffers was in January, on their first day in the White House, where some were stunned to learn that they were going to have to work alongside him or for some of the press assistants subordinate to him.

Short said he had been on a part-time assignment from the RNC and decided to return to Washington “to do my real job.” He added: “I never ceased working on behalf of the ticket.”

Scaramucci said in remarks to reporters Friday that he couldn’t guarantee who will remain in the press shop, aside from social media director Dan Scavino and communications strategist Hope Hicks, both longtime aides to Trump. He also named Sanders to succeed Spicer as press secretary.

Spicer was in the White House on Monday but spent most of the day alone in his office, according to people who were in the building.

[Politico]

The White House’s Science Division Is Now Completely Empty

Despite the veritable purge of scientists and science communication that has characterized the Trump administration, the White House still has an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Unfortunately, its science division is now completely lacking any staff whatsoever.

As reported by CBS News, the three remaining employees, all of which were holdovers from the Obama administration, have left. One staffer, the assistant director for biomedical and forensic sciences, tweeted, “Science division out. Mic drop” as she left.

Over the last couple of years, there were up to 100 employees working at the OSTP, which saw a high level of investment from the former President. It is unclear when or even if the roles will be filled again, and by whom.

First established in 1976 by Congress, it is designed to provide the President and others with “advice on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations, the environment, and the technological recovery and use of resources, among other topics.”

Many governmental scientific agencies have been threatened with massive and historic funding cuts; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being effectively stripped of its scientific advisory board; that is why federal scientists have been bullied to not to speak out about their research. Entire departments that focus on science and technology are being shut down.

As of June, around 85 percent of all scientific posts in the federal government, including an official scientific advisor to the President, were left unfilled. Perhaps uniquely, this percentage has now increased, what with the recent dismissals at the EPA and the new removals at the OSTP.

[IFLScience]

Trump Brags to Russians About Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey

President Donald Trump bragged to two top Russian officials last week that firing “nut job” FBI Director James Comey eased “great pressure” on him, The New York Times reported Friday.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.

“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

He added, “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

Trump’s dismissal of Comey was met with bipartisan derision. The move, which came after Trump asked Comey for his loyalty and, according to memos written by the former FBI director, requested he kill an investigation into Trump’s top national security adviser, was seen as a clear violation of protocol and had some Democrats calling for impeachment.
The President maintains he was surprised by the response to Comey’s firing.

“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said Thursday at a news conference. “When I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
The news broke shortly after Trump took off for his critically important five-country, eight-day foreign trip, the first of his presidency.

Even before Friday’s report, news about Comey and the newly named special counsel for the Russia investigation has threatened to overshadow Trump’s trip.

Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was controversial before news of talk about Comey ever came out. No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the gathering. The meeting was also personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.

[CNN]

Reality

The White House did not refute the report, but instead tried to claim “pressure” Trump was referring to was the FBI’s investigation gave Trump an inability for diplomatic negotiations with Russia But how is that any better? The White House is still admitting Comey was fired for political reasons.

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