Trump’s lawyer wants second special counsel to probe investigators

President Trump‘s legal team said Tuesday it would like a new special counsel to be appointed to probe individuals investigating Russian election meddling.

“The Department of Justice and FBI can not ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement.

Sekulow’s statement calling for a second special counsel, which was first reported by Axios, comes after Fox News published an article on Monday that said the wife of an official in the Justice Department was employed during the campaign by Fusion GPS, the opposition firm behind a controversial dossier of Trump opposition research.

The president’s attorneys, according to Axios, fault the FBI and the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the probe into Russia’s election meddling and any potential ties between Trump campaign staff members and the Kremlin.

Trump has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt,” arguing Democrats are using Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s presidential election as an excuse for their loss.

“As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” Trump said in July.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump’s lawyers display a fundamental misunderstanding of how special councils work. First, there has to be a crime, and Mueller and the FBI haven’t committed one. Second, a Special Council office was created because of the recusals of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Rod Rosenstein. And finally, a President of the United States calling for an investigation into the investigators, who have already secured two indictments and another two pleas, is not what happens in a democracy.

Donald Trump Just Claimed He Never Met Women Accusing Him of Sexual Harassment. That’s Not True

President Donald Trump targeted Democrats and the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct in a tweet Tuesday morning, calling their claims “false” and “fabricated.”

“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia — so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met,” the president tweeted. “FAKE NEWS!”

While Trump claimed he did not “know and/or have never met” these accusers, several of the women had participated in events in which he was the host. Of the 19 women who have come forward with accusations against the president, one of them, Summer Zervose, was a contestant on the fifth season of NBC’s The Apprentice, and several of them were contestants in Miss USA pageants.

Additionally, one of them is Natasha Stoynoff, a former People magazine staff writer who interviewed Trump and Melania Trump in Mar-a-Lago in 2005, when, she said, Trump forced her against a wall and kissed her.

Their claims, many of which have a number of corroborators, were recently detailed again in The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

Trump’s tweet came after the White House told Megyn Kelly Today that the claims were “false” and “totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts” — seemingly confirming, at least, that Trump at met at least some of his accusers.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME Tuesday morning.

On Monday, three women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct in the past spoke at a press conference and appeared on Megyn Kelly Today amid a national reckoning as more men in a variety of industries have been fired or forced to resign over accusations of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The women repeated their accusations on Kelly’s program Monday morning in light of newfound attention to the subject — and the momentum of the #MeToo movement.

The stories told by Samantha Holvey, Rachel Crooks, and Jessica Leeds included allegations that Trump came backstage unexpectedly and inspected contestants during the Miss USA pageant in 2006, and that he had forcibly kissed Crooks on the mouth at Trump Tower in 2005.

“In an objective setting, without question, a person with this record would have entered the graveyard of political aspirations never to return,” said Cooks said Monday. “Yet, here we are with that man as President.”

In recent weeks, a wave of allegations has resulted in men in a variety of industries resigning or being fired. The list includes former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who stepped down last week amid sexual misconduct allegations, as well as Michigan Rep. John Conyers.

Democratic lawmakers on Monday called on Trump to resign amid the allegations, as well as recommended a Congressional investigation into the claims. One of those lawmakers included New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Trump also targeted on Twitter on Tuesday.

[TIME]

Trump tweets that he ‘seldom’ watches CNN and MSNBC — shortly after both networks cover a report on his viewing

President Trump tweeted on Monday morning that he does not watch as much television as a recent New York Times report claimed, adding that he “seldom, if ever,” tunes in to CNN or MSNBC.

The tweet posted just 28 minutes after MSNBC wrapped up a segment about the Times report and 30 minutes after CNN did the same.

The timing could be a coincidence. Or it could mean that Trump was doing the very thing he denied — watching CNN and MSNBC — shortly before he tweeted.

The Times reported on Saturday that “around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to ‘Fox & Friends’ for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.”One of the Times journalists who reported the story, Peter Baker, appeared on “Morning Joe” on Monday to discuss the president’s TV habit.“He likes this jolt of television he doesn’t agree with,” Baker said of Trump. “It’s kind of hate-watching. He watches something that he knows is going to rile him up. It’s like a big cup of caffeine. Most people try to avoid things that make them upset, but I think that President Trump — he gets a charge out of it.”

Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio appeared on CNN around the same time that Baker was on MSNBC and said that “people who have been around the president for any real period of time know that he is a television addict. He’s probably watching us right now.”Perhaps he was.

The White House did not respond to an inquiry about whether Trump was watching and responding to CNN and MSNBC.

[Washington Post]

Reality

Also, just the day before, Trump was critical of the coverage on CNN and MSNBC, tweeting anger that they were not covering the health of the economy. Again, this was just the day before.

Trump: ‘Fake news’ media doesn’t cover economic progress

President Trump early Sunday praised the growth of the United States economy and slammed “the fake news” for its coverage of the subject.

“Things are going really well for our economy, a subject the Fake News spends as little time as possible discussing!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“Stock Market hit another RECORD HIGH, unemployment is now at a 17 year low and companies are coming back into the USA,” he added.

“Really good news, and much more to come!”

According to CNNMoney, the latest numbers reported by the government last week showed the unemployment rate stayed at a 17-year low.

Trump often takes credit for such success, writing on Twitter that his administration is contributing to stock market records and job numbers.

“Stock market hit yet another all-time record high yesterday,” Trump said on Nov. 7.

“There is great confidence in the moves that my Administration … is making. Working very hard on TAX CUTS for the middle class, companies and jobs!”

Trump on Sunday also said that Congress is getting closer to reaching a final version of the tax-reform bill.

“House and Senate working very hard and smart. End result will be not only important, but SPECIAL!” the president tweeted.

[The Hill]

Trump suggests reporter be fired over inaccurate crowd size tweet he already apologized for

President Donald Trump singled out a Washington Post reporter for repeated criticism Saturday evening, suggesting he be fired even after the reporter apologized for tweeting a misleading photo he had already deleted.

The reporter, Dave Weigel, had posted a photo of a near-empty stadium with the caption “Packed to the rafters,” inaccurately suggesting it was taken during Trump’s Florida rally on Friday. In fact, the photo was taken before the rally began.

“@DaveWeigel @WashingtonPost put out a phony photo of an empty arena hours before I arrived @ the venue, w/ thousands of people outside, on their way in,” Trump tweeted. “Real photos now shown as a I spoke. Packed house, many people unable to get in. Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!”

Weigel apologized to Trump within minutes and noted he had already deleted the inaccurate tweet.

“Sure thing: I apologize. I deleted the photo after @dmartosko told me I’d gotten it wrong. Was confused by the image of you walking in the bottom right corner,” Weigel tweeted.

“It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. I deleted it after like 20 minutes. Very fair to call me out,” Weigel later tweeted.

But Trump continued to target Weigel even after the apology, accusing him of being deliberately misleading.

“.@daveweigel of the Washington Post just admitted that his picture was a FAKE (fraud?) showing an almost empty arena last night for my speech in Pensacola when, in fact, he knew the arena was packed (as shown also on T.V.). FAKE NEWS, he should be fired,” Trump tweeted.

[Business Insider]

Trump administration lawyers claims the KKK is a protected class

In the circus surrounding the Masterpiece Bakeshop case, in which a Colorado baker refused to serve gay customers, lost a discrimination case and then appealed it all the way to the Supreme Court, a strange tidbit emerged yesterday. In explaining why Jack Phillips, the bakery’s owner, should not be compelled to serve people whose lifestyles go against his religious beliefs, Solicitor General Noel Francisco kept saying that a black sculptor should not be compelled to make art for the Ku Klux Klan.

As Imani Gandy at Rewire pointed out Wednesday, Francisco, who serves as the government’s lawyer, got at least one half of his argument right — no lawyer could successfully argue that it’s discriminatory for an African-American artist to deny service to a KKK member. But that’s because, unlike LGBTQ people, KKK members are not members of a “protected class.”

“The anti-discrimination law doesn’t require every business to serve every person on the planet,” Gandy wrote. “It merely requires that a business not refuse service based on a person’s protected characteristic.”

Under Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, “places of public accommodation” like businesses, restaurants, stores and hotels are not permitted to refuse service to someone based on protected characteristics. Those characteristics include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin and ancestry.”

“A protected or ‘suspect’ class,” she continued, “is made up of ‘discrete and insular minorities’: a group of people who have historically been subjected to discrimination, comprise a discrete minority (meaning there aren’t a lot of them, percentage-wise), and have immutable characteristics (meaning characteristics that cannot be changed).

Being a member of the Klan or other bigoted groups is not unchangeable, nor does it subject one to historic discrimination (no matter what racist right-wingers would have you believe).

[RawStory]

Sarah Huckabee Sanders Invented a New Excuse For Why Trump Won’t Release His Taxes

During a press briefing this afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the still-lingering issue of President Donald Trump‘s refusal to make his tax returns public.

The Trump team has consistently countered critics by saying that since the president’s returns are being audited, he cannot release them publicly. NBC‘s Hallie Jackson picked up on this issue and posed the following question, “You said, on Tuesday, that as long as [President Trump’s] taxes are under audit, he’s not going to release them; his 2016 taxes–to our knowledge–are not under audit–unless they are.” To which Sanders replied:

The president’s taxes, no matter who the president is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed.

Sanders’ full excuse, therefore, is that President Trump still can’t release his taxes because they’re presently subject to an automatic audit.

Except that’s not really the case.

While it is true that presidential tax returns are automatically audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) since the time of President Richard Nixon, nothing about the automatic audit actually prevents presidential tax returns from being released.

In 2015, President Barack Obama released his tax returns to the American public (so did Vice-President Biden). Obama’s tax returns were subject to the same mandatory audit provision of the IRS manual, but he released them anyway.

And lest the MAGA set think we’re being unfair by comparing Trump to Obama’s time in office, that’s not all.

According to the Tax History Project, almost every single president since Nixon has released their tax returns for every single year they’ve been in office–and every president since Nixon has been subject to that same mandatory audit provision in the IRS manual. The only currently unavailable tax returns are one each from Presidents George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and all of those belonging to Gerald Ford–who only released summary data about tax years 1966-1975.

Nothing is stopping Trump from releasing his taxes–and to be clear, those returns will be under audit at least until he leaves the White House. But now, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has indicated that the president intends on using a perpetual, legalistic excuse not to release them.

[Law and Crime]

Media

VA cuts program for homeless vets after touting Trump’s commitment

Four days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin held a big Washington event to tout the Trump administration’s promise to house all homeless vets, the agency did an about-face, telling advocates it was pulling resources from a major housing program.

The VA said it was essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans. Instead, the money would go to local VA hospitals that can use it as they like, as long as they show evidence of dealing with homelessness.

Anger exploded on a Dec. 1 call that was arranged by Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans to explain the move. Advocates for veterans, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the program, attacked the decision, according to five people who were on the call.

“I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out,” Elisha Harig-Blaine, a National League of Cities housing official who was on the call, said in an interview afterward. “You’re putting at risk the lives of men and women who’ve served this country.”

“The VA is taking its foot off the pedal,” said Leon Winston, an executive at Swords to Plowshares, which helps homeless vets in San Francisco, where he said the VA decision is already having an impact. HUD recently put up 100 housing vouchers for veterans in the program, but the local VA hospital said it could only provide support for 50.

The agency’s move came as HUD on Wednesday released its annual survey showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016 — the first rise since 2010. Most of the jump occurred in Los Angeles, where housing costs are skyrocketing.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sits on a veterans’ affairs subcommittee, called the VA decision “a new low” for the Trump administration that was “especially callous and perplexing” in view of the latest data on homelessness.

In a statement late Wednesday, Shulkin insisted that overall funding for veteran homelessness was not being cut, and seemed to suggest he might reverse the decision. He promised to get input from local VA leaders and others “on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most.”

HUD data show there were nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in 2016, and even those with housing still need assistance. The program has reduced the number of displaced servicemembers, serving 138,000 since 2010 and cut the number without housing on a given day by almost half. More than half the veterans housed are chronically ill, mentally ill or have substance abuse problems.

[Politico]

Donald Trump Jr. asked Russian lawyer for info on Clinton Foundation

Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the committee that she didn’t have any such evidence, and that she believes Trump misunderstood the nature of the meeting after receiving emails from a music promoter promising incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent.

Once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest, Veselnitskaya said, and the meeting petered out.

“Today, I understand why it took place to begin with and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted,” Veselnitskaya wrote. “The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. Goldstone.”

She was referring to Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who worked for the Agalarov family. They are Russian oligarchs with Kremlin connections who had business and social ties to the Trump family. Goldstone’s emails to Trump Jr. arranging the meeting on behalf of the Agalarovs called Veselnitskaya a “Russian government lawyer” who had dirt on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump. Goldstone has since said he exaggerated.

In her 51-page statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Veselnitskaya said she did not work for the Russian government and was not carrying any messages from government officials. She said her motive was to get the Trump team to examine what she argues is a fraud that led the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia known as the Magnitsky Act.

Her ultimate goal was a congressional investigation into that matter, she said. She has long argued that U.S.-born hedge fund investor Bill Browder lied about the circumstances of the death of his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail, and that the U.S. government imposed Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russia, which are named after the accountant, based on a fraud. Browder and American officials dismiss that allegation, calling it part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Veselnitskaya said there was no discussion at the Trump Tower meeting of hacked or leaked emails, social media campaigns or any of the other main aspects of Russian interference in the U.S. election. Previously, she told NBC News she had raised the issue of potential questionable contributions to Clinton’s campaign by Americans accused in Russia of tax evasion.

Though some may see her answers as self-serving, Veselnitskaya’s written answers reinforced what has long been understood about the Trump Tower meeting: that Donald Trump Jr. accepted it on the promise of incriminating information about Clinton that he had been told was coming from the Russian government. And he asked Veselnitskaya directly whether she had it, according to her written answers. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were also in attendance, as were a Russian lobbyist, a Russian businessman and a translator.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate investigating committees continue to look into the Trump Tower meeting, according to multiple officials familiar with the probes.

Veselnitskaya insists they will find nothing that isn’t already known. She says she wishes the meeting had never happened.

“Now that I know the kind of apocalyptic Hollywood scenario that a private conversation between a lawyer and a businessman can be turned into, I very much regret that the desire to bring the truth to the [Congress] has thrown the U.S. president’s family, as well as Mrs. Clinton, into the whirlwind of mutual political accusations and fueled the fire of the morbid, completely groundless hatred for Russia,” Veselnitskaya wrote.

In another noteworthy aspect of her answers, Veselnitskaya acknowledged that she worked with Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, in an investigation of Browder, whose campaign led Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act.

At the time he was working on that case, Simpson and his firm, Fusion GPS, were also working with former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele on the infamous Trump dossier.

But Veselnitskaya says she had no idea about that, confirming testimony Simpson has provided to House and Senate investigators.

Some Republicans have suggested that Simpson’s work on behalf of a Russian client investigating the premise of the Magnitsky Act means the dossier could be tainted by Russian disinformation, but no evidence has surfaced to buttress that allegation.

Veselnitskaya called those allegations “unsubstantiated and outrageous insinuations.”

A lawyer for Trump Jr. declined to comment, but referred NBC News to the statement his client released in September, which said Trump Jr. wanted to “hear (the Russians) out” if they had information concerning Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications.”

[NBC News]

Trump accused Clinton of lying but the FBI said she did not

President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday that Hillary Clinton had lied to the FBI, going on the offensive days after his former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to that same crime.

“Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it’s a shame,” Trump said. “Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone’s ever seen. She lied many times; nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and they ruined his life. It’s very unfair.”

In alleging Clinton lies, the president is spreading a falsehood: The FBI asserts that she did not lie to them.

“We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” then-FBI Director James Comey testified under oath to the House of Representatives in July 2016 about Clinton’s handling of classified information on a private email server. “I have no basis for concluding that she was untruthful with us.”

The only accurate thing in Trump’s remarks about his former rival? That Clinton wasn’t under oath during her interview last year with the FBI.

Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia.

Trump’s remarks are the latest in a long stream of attacks on Clinton and defenses of Flynn since his firing. The president tweeted along the same lines on Saturday, criticizing the FBI’s decision not to record Clinton’s interview.

Trump fired Comey in May. His firing — and subsequent testimony that Trump had demanded loyalty and pressured Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn — prompted the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump team’s ties to Russia and who negotiated Flynn’s guilty plea. Trump denies that he told Comey to go easy on Flynn.

[NBC News]

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