Tom Price Says States Can Pass Anti-Vaccination Laws

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a licensed physician, argued Wednesday that vaccinating children should be a matter best handled by the states, and not dictated by federal guidelines.

Price’s comments, made during a CNN Town Hall on the Affordable Care Act, has fueled concerns that he shares some of the president’s sympathies for those who link childhood vaccinations with autism. This idea has been forcefully discredited by a wide body of scientific research, and the so-called anti-vaxx movement is credited with the return of once-eradicated diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough, not to mention the spread of preventable disease like the HPV virus.

The federal government does not currently mandate vaccination policy. However, Price does have the authority to revoke current guidelines and policies set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is under his jurisdiction. Currently the CDC recommends vaccinations for children. Those policies hold significant sway over state law.

Price also supports the Republican Obamacare replacement plan which contains a provision that would slash half the funding for the federal vaccines program. The Section 317 Vaccination program is critical to staying on top of immunizations and disease outbreaks nationwide.

Denise Edwards from Michigan asked Price whether he believed Americans, when deciding on a healthcare plan, should be penalized for eschewing immunizations “for ethical or religious reasons.”

“You ought to be able to select the plan that matches your needs instead of the federal government telling you, ‘This is what you’ve got to buy,’” Price responded.

Co-host Wolf Blitzer interrupted and pressed Price on the matter.

“Dr. Price, you’re a physician,” Blitzer said. “You believe in immunizations; you believe all children should get a shot for polio and other diseases.”

“It’s a perfectly appropriate role for government — this happens by and large at the state government level… to determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population,” Price said. “Whether it’s growing kids or the like, or, if its an outbreak of a particular infectious disease, whether immunization ought to be required or be able to be utilized.”

Price’s comments are seemingly a departure from the position he took during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez asked Price whether he agreed with Trump that vaccines cause autism.

“I think the science in that instance is that it does not,” Price said. He also promised senators that he would “make certain that factual informing is conveyed to Congress and the president and the American people” on the issue of vaccinations.

In January, during the transition period, Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy, a leading proponent of the anti-vaccination conspiracy theory. Kennedy told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower after the meeting that the then-president-elect had asked him to chair a special commission on vaccination safety. The purpose of the commission, he said, would be to ensure “scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.”

(h/t Vice News)

Reality

Tom Price belongs to a truly radical medical organization known as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

The AAPS organization stands at direct odds, in myriad ways, with some of very foundational beliefs of evidence-based modern public-health research.

From ScienceBlogs:

Perhaps [Price] was so attracted to the AAPS vision of doctors as special and “outside of the herd” to the point that he ignored its simultaneous promotion of dangerous medical quackery, such as antivaccine pseudoscience blaming vaccines for autism, including a view that is extreme even among antivaccine activists, namely that the “shaken baby syndrome” is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury; its HIV/AIDS denialism; its blaming immigrants for crime and disease; its promotion of the pseudoscience claiming that abortion causes breast cancer using some of the most execrable “science” ever; its rejection of evidence-based guidelines as an unacceptable affront on the godlike autonomy of physicians; or the way the AAPS rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything. Let’s just put it this way. The AAPS has featured publications by antivaccine mercury militia “scientists” Mark and David Geier. Even so, the very fact that Price was attracted enough to this organization and liked it enough to actually join it should raise a number of red flags. It certainly did with me, because I know the AAPS all too well.

Media

Spicer: Trump didn’t mean wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping

The White House on Monday walked back a key point of President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

Namely, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump wasn’t referring to wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping.

“I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election,” Spicer said. “The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.”

Wiretapping is a narrowly defined surveillance activity that involves tapping into “a telephone or telegram wire in order to get information,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Spicer also said that Trump was referring to the Obama administration broadly — and not accusing Obama of personal involvement — when he tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” and accused Obama of being a “bad” or “sick guy.”

Spicer’s comments came on the same say as the deadline for the Justice Department to provide evidence to the House Intelligence Committee to back up Trump’s claim. The White House has so far refused to provide any evidence, and numerous former officials have denied the existence of any warrant to wiretap Trump Tower.

A week earlier, Spicer said Trump’s tweet “speaks for itself” and declined to provide any further explanation.

But Monday, Spicer was open to providing an interpretation for Trump’s tweet, saying the President told Spicer he was referring to means of surveillance beyond wiretapping in his tweets accusing Obama of doing just that.

But in each of the four tweets Trump fired off leveling the accusation, Trump referred specifically to phone tapping — and only used quotation marks in two of those.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,” Trump said in his first tweet.

“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president?” he asked in the next.

Then, Trump tweeted that Obama “was tapping my phones in October” and had stooped low “to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process.”

But Spicer was not the only White House official to provide an alternative definition of the word “wiretap” despite Trump’s clear language.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also addressed the wiretapping claims in an interview Sunday with the Bergen County Record, suggesting that other covert surveillance methods used by the CIA — as revealed by Wikileaks last week — could have been used in Trump Tower by the Obama administration.

“Do you know whether Trump Tower was wiretapped?” Bergen County Record columnist Mike Kelly asked Conway on Sunday.

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said, before suggesting that surveillance could take place through phones, TVs or “microwaves that turn into cameras.”

(h/t CNN)

Media

 

Conway Denies Suggesting Wider Surveillance of Trump

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway is denying she suggested there was wider surveillance of President Donald Trump during the campaign, telling CNN Monday that her comments in a recent interview were taken out of context.

Sunday night, Conway appeared to expand Trump’s allegations that the Obama administration wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower — a claim for which the President has not yet provided evidence — when she told the Bergen Record there could have been even wider spying on the Trump campaign, including the use of microwaves and television sets.

She did not provide any evidence for the claims.

Pressed about the comments by CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day,” Conway insisted she was not alleging actions by the Obama administration against the Trump campaign.

“I was answering a question about surveillance techniques generally,” she said.

When Cuomo pressed Conway on her answer — saying the question posed to her was “asked specifically” rather than generally — Conway shot back, countering that she was not responsible for providing proof of such surveillance.

“I’m not Inspector Gadget,” Conway said. “I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign. However, I’m not in the job of having evidence; that’s what investigations are for.

Rather than alluding to wider surveillance of the Trump campaign, she said she was simply noting that there were news reports of advanced technologies that facilitate spying, an observation that had been warped thanks to people’s desires to “fit things how they want,” Conway said.

“I was talking about surveillance generally, but people are going to fit that the way they want to fit it,” Conway said.

When Cuomo brought up current controversy over Trump campaign officials’ relations with Russian politicians — “this seems to be a distraction” from that controversy, Cuomo said — Conway shot back.

“Maybe (it seems that way) to you and maybe to other people who don’t necessarily want Donald Trump to be president, but to other people, they see it as what it was — talking about news articles and talking about surveillance generally,” Conway answered.

“My questioning of you … is not about not wanting the President to be President,” Cuomo countered. “That’s unfair and it’s hurtful because you are feeding people’s animosity.”

“Feeding people’s animosity? Look over your shoulder,” Conway shot back. “I have 24/7 Secret Service protection because of people feeding people’s animosity. Don’t claim that privilege.”

(h/t CNN)

Media

Trump’s budget director claims Obama was ‘manipulating’ jobs data

President Trump’s budget director claims the Obama administration was “manipulating” jobs data.

Mick Mulvaney told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that he has long thought the previous administration framed data to make the unemployment rate “look smaller than it actually was.”

“What you should really look at is the number of jobs created,” Mulvaney said on “State of the Union.” “We’ve thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate — that percentage rate — look smaller than it actually was.”

Trump repeatedly railed on the unemployment rate during Obama’s time in office as a “hoax.”

Trump once claimed that he had “heard” the rate could be as high as 42% — even though at the time it was about 5%.

Economists debate the best way to calculate statistics. But there is no evidence that the Bureau of Labor Statistics fudges its unemployment data.
The BLS is the Department of Labor agency responsible for compiling a vast store of government data about jobs that is used by businesses, economists and investors to judge the health of the U.S. economy.

“During the four years I served as commissioner, the administration didn’t try to manipulate the numbers at all,” said Erica Groshen, who served as BLS commissioner from January 2013 to January 2017.

The agency has used the same method for calculating the unemployment rate since 1940.

The monthly report is based on two surveys. One queries American households to produce the unemployment rate, and the other surveys businesses about the number of jobs added or lost each month.
The BLS also publishes “alternative” measures of employment each month, which include many different metrics for the public and politicians to review.

Despite Trump’s past feelings on the jobs report, the president changed his tune Friday after a positive showing: The economy added 235,000 new jobs during his first full month in office, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%.
Said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.'”

Friday’s report marked the 18th month in a row that unemployment was at or below 5% — a level considered low by most economists.

(h/t CNN)

Media

After Pledging to Donate Salary, Trump Declines to Release Proof

President Donald Trump pledged to forgo a presidential salary, but as his second payday approaches, the White House is declining to say if the president has donated any of his earnings yet.

During the campaign, Trump promised he would take “no salary” if elected — a pledge he reiterated after he won.

“I’m not going to the take the salary,” he said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in November.

The Constitution, however, requires that the president receive a salary, and that it not be reduced during his term. Federal law mandates the president receive a $400,000 annual salary, paid out once a month.

Trump aides have previously said Trump would donate his salary to the Treasury Department or a charity.

MSNBC requested details and documentation about any salary donations from the White House, the Treasury Department and the Office of Personnel Management, which all declined to say whether Trump has donated any of his salary to date. (OPM referred questions to the White House.)

Last month, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the website Politifact that Trump “will be giving” his salary “back to Treasury or donating.” The site noted the White House “declined to answer several inquiries into whether Trump has gotten a paycheck already.”

Under the law, Trump would receive his first monthly paycheck for $33,333 in February, and another $33,333 on March 20.

Salary donations are not the only area where Trump’s pledges to donate revenue are lacking transparency.

During the transition, Trump also unveiled a plan to “donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of his hotels and similar businesses” to the Treasury Department. The plan was released by Trump’s private law firm, Morgan Lewis, but no system or accounting has been released for how or when such donations will be processed or disclosed.

(h/t NBC News)

Media

Kellyanne Conway Suggests Even Wider Surveillance of Trump Campaign

The White House is offering yet another wrinkle in its attempt to support President Trump’s allegation — unfounded, so far — that his campaign headquarters in Manhattan was wiretapped by the Obama administration. The latest comes from Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.

She says the “surveillance” may be broader than even Trump suggested.

In a wide-ranging interview Sunday at her home in Alpine, where she lives with her husband — who was a possible nominee for U.S. solicitor general — and their four children, Conway, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign before taking the job as one of the president’s closest advisers, suggested that the alleged monitoring of activities at Trump’s campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan may have involved far more than wiretapping.

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said as the Trump presidency marked its 50th day in office during the weekend. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.”

Conway went on to say that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding: “We know this is a fact of modern life.”

Conway did not offer any evidence to back up her claim. But her remarks are significant — and potentially explosive — because they come amid a request by the House Intelligence Committee for the White House to turn over any evidence by Monday that the phones at Trump Tower were tapped as part of what the president claims to be a secret plot by the Obama administration to monitor his campaign.

The White House has not said whether it will provide any corroborative support to back up the president’s claim of the alleged wiretapping. The allegation came to light nine days ago when Trump wrote in an early-morning Twitter message that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

Trump did not offer any evidence in his original Twitter message. And while criticism mounted in the following days that Trump may have overreached, neither he nor the White House provided any means to verify the claim. Indeed, the wiretapping claims have dominated much of the discourse in Washington, often overshadowing the president’s attempt to promote changes in the Affordable Care Act and institute new immigration regulations.

Now comes Conway’s insinuation of a much broader surveillance plan against Trump. Her suggestion, while further stirring up the debate, appears to indicate that the White House does not plan to back down from Trump’s original Twitter claim in spite of strong assertions that it is not true from the U.S. intelligence community as well as from former president Barack Obama himself and members of his inner circle.

In the interview, Conway reiterated the request by the White House that the allegations of wiretapping  — and what she hinted might be other forms of surveillance — should be wrapped into a Congressional investigation into whether Russian intelligence operatives tried to influence the outcome of last November’s election.“What the president has asked is for the investigation into surveillance to be included into the ongoing intelligence investigations in the House and Senate,” she said.

The strategy of dueling inquiries — along with Conway’s suggestion of even broader surveillance by the Obama administration besides wiretapping — certainly complicates any investigation that involves Russia. But it may also confuse the issue.

While Conway seemed to call for a closer look into the so-far unfounded allegations of wiretapping by so-far unnamed members of the Obama administration, she also was dismissive of the extent and impact of the alleged Russian scheme. The Russian attempt to hack into computers within the Republican and Democratic campaign organizations is largely not disputed within the U.S. intelligence community.  What is disputed is whether the Russian scheme had any impact on the outcome of the election.

Conway’s remarks, however, may complicate the matter in other unforeseen ways.

She claimed in the interview that Democrats who called for a deeper investigation of the alleged Russian links – while also ignoring Trump’s claim of wiretapping by Obama — were really trying to undermine the Trump presidency. “The investigation is about a bunch of people who can’t believe that Hillary Clinton lost the election,” Conway said, her voice rising when asked about the possibility that Russian operatives may have helped to defeat Clinton and insure that Trump won.

“I was the campaign manager,” Conway added. “I was there every day and every night. I talked to people in Macomb County, Michigan, not in Moscow.”

She said that “this whole conspiracy” is a “waste of people’s oxygen, and air and resources and time when we could be helping those who are hungry, who need health care, who are in poverty, who need tax relief, entrepreneurs who want to get off the ground.”

In the interview, Conway addressed a variety of topics, including Trump’s efforts to assemble a coalition of support for his plan to revamp the Affordable Care Act, and her belief that Gov. Chris Christie may eventually join the Trump administration in some capacity, perhaps not for several more years, however. Conway even noted that Christie had come to her home recently to discuss his effort to improve services for drug addicts.

“The president likes Governor Christie a lot,” Conway said. “They talk all the time.”

But at various points, she continued to return to a seeming favorite topic — that Democratic critics of Trump are incapable of accepting the fact that he was able to defeat Hillary Clinton.

“They haven’t gotten over it,” Conway said, noting that she found many Democrats still working through “the stages of grief,” which range from anger to disbelief and, finally, acceptance of a loss.

“I know they’re not in acceptance,” Conway said. “That’s too bad for the country. The campaign is over. Now it’s time to govern.”

It’s an understandable — even laudable — suggestion that the opposing sides in Washington should stop fighting. But as Conway concedes, governing and the more difficult task of finding common ground among political adversaries is difficult amid allegations of a complicated plot involving Russia.

“It’s a big agenda,” Conway said of Trump’s first 50 days in the White House. “It’s very ambitious. And it’s very Trumpian.”

But that agenda still seems to keeps tripping over the election itself — and the questions about it.

(h/t USA Today)

Media

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Says Carbon Dioxide is Not a Primary Contributor to Global Warming

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The statement contradicts the public stance of the agency Pruitt leads. The EPA’s webpage on the causes of climate change states, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Pruitt’s view is also at odds with the opinion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere,” NASA and NOAA said in January.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, co-chair of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, slammed Pruitt for his comments, calling his views “extreme” and “irresponsible.”

“Anyone who denies over a century’s worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA. Now more than ever, the Senate needs to stand up to Scott Pruitt and his dangerous views,” he said in a statement.

Schatz said lawmakers would hold Pruitt accountable through the appropriations process and oversight of the EPA, and by making sure he follows the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republican attorneys general to challenge President Barack Obama‘s regulatory agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.

Democrats and environmentalists opposed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and his history of casting doubt on climate change. Conservatives and the energy industry have cheered his efforts to push back on what they view as over-regulation under Obama.

Pruitt maintained on Thursday it’s possible to be pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-environment all at once.

“This idea that if you’re pro-environment you’re anti-energy is just something we’ve got to change so that attitude is something we’re working on very much,” he said.

Asked whether he would seek to roll back the EPA’s 2009 determination that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a danger to public health, Pruitt suggested he would like to see Congress take up the issue.

“I think all those things need to be addressed as we go forward but not least of which is the response by the legislative branch with respect to the issue,” he said.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases from automobiles. In 2014, it determined the agency could also regulate some sources of greenhouse gases, such as power plants.

Pruitt also called the Paris Agreement, an international accord aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change, “a bad deal.” He said it puts the United States on a different playing field than developing countries like China and India.

The United States has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In comparison, China has committed to reach peak carbon emissions levels by 2030, but will try to reach that point sooner.

“I happen to think the Paris accord, the Paris treaty, or the Paris Agreement, if you will, should have been treated as a treaty, should have gone through senate confirmation. That’s a concern,” he said.

The Paris Agreement was negotiated by the State Department, and future adherence to U.S. commitments made under Obama will be guided by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson, the former chief of Exxon Mobil, said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he believes the United States should remain a party to the Paris Agreement.

(h/t CNBC)

Reality

There is nothing in the scientific literature that can back up Scott Pruitt’s claim. On the contrary there is overwhelming scientific evidence that carbon dioxide [CO2] in the atmosphere is the primary driver of climate change.

Science has been aware for over 150 years that carbon in the atmosphere will retain heat. The year was 1859 to be exact, and it was scientist John Tyndall who made the discovery that carbon in the atmosphere trapped heat. Then in 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated that, based on this simple principle of physics, higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere would raise global temperatures. These discoveries are the cornerstones of climate science, in 150 years have yet to be disputed, and instead continues to be confirmed by observation.

To explain further, the science, in short, says the following. CO2 lets through short wave light, the kind that passes through our atmosphere, but traps long wave radiation, the kind that is reflected and travels back into space. This experiment can be done in a laboratory, and should you have the time you could see it for yourself.

The site at this link has compiled a list of just a handful of the published scientific papers of laboratory measurements of CO2 absorption properties, ranging from 1861 all the way up to 2008. Knowing this evidence, scientist reached a consensus a long time ago that CO2 is indeed a contributor to global warming.

Just to reiterate here, Scott Pruitt’s acceptance of science predates the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War, and the First Transcontinental Railroad. This is the equivalent trying to attack a state-of-the-art military drone with a Civil War era musket.

Media

CNBC

Trump Met Russian Ambassador at Reception During Campaign

President Donald Trump met last April with the Russian ambassador at the center of a pair of controversies over engagement between Trump allies and the Kremlin, despite claims by his spokeswoman that he had “zero” involvement with Russian officials during the campaign.

Attention to Trump’s encounter with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak resurfaced after revelations last week that at least five members of Trump’s campaign team — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions — had contact with Kislyak before Trump took office.

The federal government has launched multiple investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump met Kislyak during a VIP reception April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel shortly before a foreign policy address, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. In the speech, Trump said an “easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia” is possible.

The Wall Street Journal article, published May 13, 2016, reported Trump “warmly greeted Mr. Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to the reception.”

White House officials described the encounter as brief and non-substantive, saying that Trump only attended the reception for five minutes and that multiple foreign ambassadors were present.

The Center for the National Interest, a nonprofit that hosted Trump’s speech, said that it invited Kislyak to attend and sat him in the front row of the audience with three other foreign ambassadors. “The Trump campaign had nothing to do with the seating arrangement,” the group said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.

No Recollection

The center said it invited the ambassadors to a “short reception” preceding Trump’s speech with about two dozen guests, who formed a receiving line for Trump.

“The line moved quickly and any conversations with Mr. Trump in that setting were inherently brief and could not be private,” the group said. “Our recollection is that the interaction between Mr. Trump and Ambassador Kislyak was limited to the polite exchange of pleasantries appropriate on such occasions.”

One of the White House officials said in a statement e-mailed on condition of anonymity that campaign staffers who were at the event “have no recollection of who he may have shaken hands with at the reception and we were not responsible for inviting or vetting guests. To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd.”

But the meeting is at odds with White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ claim last week that Trump had “no interaction” with Russian government officials during the campaign.

“The big point here is the president himself knows what his involvement was, and that’s zero,” Sanders told reporters on March 3. “And I think that he’s the primary person that should be held responsible, and he had no interaction, and I think that’s what the story should be focused on.”

The encounter between Trump and Kislyak is in keeping with routine work by foreign diplomats who often seek contact with presidential campaigns of both parties during election season in order to report back analysis of potential impact to their governments.

Renewed Scrutiny

But the White House has come under renewed scrutiny over ties between campaign officials and Russia.

Sessions, who said during his confirmation hearings that he hadn’t had contact with Russian officials, acknowledged last week that he met the Russian ambassador twice during the election year, in response to media reporting on the meetings. He later recused himself from any Justice Department investigation into the Trump presidential campaign and amended his prior Senate testimony.

Last month, former national security adviser Mike Flynn resigned after it was revealed he misled senior administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the content of his conversations with Kislyak.

The White House has also said Kislyak met with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

Trump himself has dismissed allegations of improper ties with Russia as “a ruse.”

“I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia,” he said during a February press conference.

(h/t Bloomburg)

Trump Campaign Approved Adviser’s Trip to Moscow

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.

A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it, Gordon, a retired naval officer, told POLITICO.

Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to discuss internal campaign matters.

The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.

Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but he did not deny that it occurred.

“Is it possible that he emailed me asking if he could go to Russia as a private citizen?” Lewandowski said Tuesday. “I don’t remember that, but I probably got 1,000 emails a day at that time, and I can’t remember every single one that I was sent. And I wouldn’t necessarily remember if I had a one-word response to him saying he could do something as a private citizen.”

Hicks declined to comment. But a former campaign official said campaign officials did not discuss Page’s planned trip before he left for Moscow.

“No one discussed the trip within the campaign and certainly not with candidate Trump directly,” said the former campaign official.

The official pointed to a July statement from Hicks that declared that Page was in Moscow in a private capacity and was not representing the campaign. That statement came in response to media reports from Moscow about Page’s presence there.

Both Lewandowski and the White House official cast Page as a minor character on the periphery of the campaign, who was a foreign policy adviser in name only.

“I’ve never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life,” Lewandowski said.

Gordon and Page had no comment on whether the Trump campaign officially sanctioned the trip, which has drawn the attention of investigators from the FBI and congressional committees investigating possible Trump campaign ties with Russian officials before the election.

And while Page has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with his Moscow visit, it is now drawing increased scrutiny as a result of new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, Gordon and a third campaign official, WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers — a hack that U.S. intelligence later attributed to the Russian government.

No connection between any of those three events has been alleged publicly or confirmed. But on Tuesday, Page confirmed that he is one of about a dozen individuals and organizations contacted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and asked to preserve relevant materials for its investigation into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

“I will do everything in my power to reasonably ensure that all information concerning my activities related to Russia last year is preserved,” Page said in a letter to committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.).

In his letter, Page again denied any wrongdoing and repeated his claims that former officials of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democrats have been spreading false information about the trip and Page’s other connections to Russia.

Page’s trip to Moscow has been the subject of intense speculation for months, but many of the details remain cloudy.

A longtime oil and energy industry consultant, Page had already spent considerable time in Russia before making the trip, most recently as founder and managing partner of the Global Energy Capital investment and consulting firm, which specializes in Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business.

The firm’s website says Page has been involved in more than $25 billion of transactions in the energy and power sector and that he spent three years in Moscow, where he was an adviser on key transactions for Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom and other energy-related companies.

Page has insisted that he was in Moscow to give a commencement address at the New Economic School there based on his scholarly research, and that his visit was “outside of my informal, unpaid role” on the Trump campaign. He also said he had divested any stake in Gazprom and that he had “not met this year [2016] with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals.”

But last September, top congressional lawmakers were briefed on suspected efforts by Russia to meddle in the election. Soon after, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked FBI Director James Comey to investigate meetings between a Trump official, later identified as Page, and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow that he believed were evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump campaign officials took steps to distance themselves from Page, who had been publicly identified as an adviser as recently as Aug. 24. He announced Sept. 26 that he was taking a leave of absence from the campaign, saying the accusations were untrue but causing too much of a “distraction.”

But even after Russia was linked to the hacking effort against Democrats, the Trump campaign did not seek to question Page about his trip, the campaign adviser said.

Asked what Page did while in Moscow, the adviser said, “I have no idea. I didn’t want to know.”

The adviser also said he was not aware of anyone else on the campaign who discussed the trip with Page, either to glean any foreign policy insight from him or to determine whether any damage control was needed based on his contacts.

“Nobody talked about it. It was such an ugly topic. Even when I saw him at the convention, I didn’t talk to him about it,” the adviser said, adding that some in the campaign had expressed concern that any public appearances in Moscow by Page would send a bad message.

The campaign fired Lewandowski on June 20, before Page took the trip. Paul Manafort, who replaced Lewandowski as manager and later became chairman, said he had no knowledge of any aspect of Page’s trip, including whether Lewandowski or anyone else approved it.

In recent days, Page’s contact with Russians resurfaced with news reports that he, Gordon and senior Trump campaign adviser Sen. Jeff Sessions all engaged in discussions with Kislyak at an event on the sidelines of the GOP convention.

Page has declined to comment on what they discussed, saying it was private, while Gordon characterized the conversations as harmless efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.

The former campaign adviser on Tuesday said Page and the ambassador had a lengthy discussion and that they were at times joined by Gordon and two other ambassadors from the region. The adviser did not know whether Page or Kislyak initiated the conversation.

(h/t Politico)

Trump Hits Obama Again, This Time With False Claims About Gitmo Detainees

President Trump early Tuesday incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for releasing 122 “vicious” prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

“122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump wrote.

Trump posted the tweet 31 minutes after Fox News tweeted about a U.S. airstrike that killed a former detainee in Yemen.

“Former Gitmo detainee killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen; at least 122 former Gitmo detainees have re-engaged in terrorism” the “Fox & Friends” account tweeted just after 6:30 a.m.

But according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 113 of the 122 former detainees who have re-engaged in terrorism were released before January 2009, when former President Barack Obama took office.

The former detainee recently killed in the U.S. airstrike, Muhammad Tahar, was transferred to Yemen in December 2009, according to Department of Defense files compiled by the The New York Times.

Trump during his presidential campaign said he would “load” the detention center “with some bad dudes.” Obama during his own presidential campaign had promised to close the facility.

(h/t The Hill)

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