Trump: ‘Fake news’ that no one wants chief of staff job

President Trump on Tuesday pushed back on reports that he’s had difficulty finding candidates interested in serving as his next chief of staff, claiming “over ten” people are fighting to get the job.

“Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position,” Trump wrote. “Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington.”

The president accused the “fake news” of getting the story “purposely wrong.”

Multiple news reports in the last 24 hours have portrayed Trump as scrambling to find his next chief of staff after the presumptive favorite for the position, Nick Ayers, said he would not be taking the job.

Sources told The Hill there was no clear plan B after Ayers, currently Vice President Pence’s top aide, dropped out.

Other candidates for the job include Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Meadows said on Monday that it would be an “incredible honor” to be chosen as chief of staff, while the other candidates have reportedly indicated they’d prefer to stay in their current roles.

Trump announced on Saturday that chief of staff John Kelly would depart the administration at the end of the year, marking the end of an often acrimonious relationship between the two men.

With Kelly’s exit, Trump will seek his third chief of staff in the two years since he took office. Kelly took over in mid-2017 for former chief of staff Reince Priebus.

[The Hill]

CNN offices evacuated in bomb scare just as Trump tweeted ‘ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’ about media he doesn’t like

Donald Trump launched his latest attack on the media just as the offices of CNN, frequently the target of his anger, were being evacuated following a bomb threat.

Police searched the broadcaster’s New York newsroom after a caller claimed five explosives had been placed inside the building. Officers later gave the all-clear.

Moments after the threat, which CNN said came just before 10pm, the president wrote on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

There is no suggestion he had seen reports of the evacuation when he posted the tweet, which followed posts in which accused the FBI of pursuing a “witch hunt” against him.

But the apparent coincidence is likely to reignite concerns about Mr Trump’s anti-media rhetoric.

Earlier this year, CNN and several high-profile critics, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were targeted with mail bombs allegedly sent by a Trump supporter.

New York Police Department said the latest threat against the broadcaster on Thursday night proved to be hoax.

Police said they received an emergency call about the threat at 10.07pm local time (3.07am GMT), a minute before Mr Trump’s tweet.

Staff evacuated the Time Warner Centre and Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight was taken off the air as officers searched the building with a bomb squad on standby.

The network broadcast pre-recorded programming for about 30 minutes before Mr Lemon’s show resumed live from the street outside.

No bombs were found inside the building.

[The Independent]

Trump fires off late-night tweetstorm on the eve of a landmark moment in the Russia investigation

President Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets on a range of topics on Thursday evening, the night before the special counsel Robert Mueller was expected to submit several important filings related to the Russia investigation.

Trump fired off two tweets relating to a Fox Business segment in which the anchor Trish Regan sought to cast doubt on the FBI’sjustification for obtaining a FISA warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Regan suggested the FBI was “weaponized in order to take down President Donald Trump.”

“Is this really America?” Trump tweeted. “Witch Hunt!”

In another tweet one minute later, Trump appeared to revive a particularly inflammatory attack on the news media, saying only “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump went on to mention Arizona, which he claimed was “bracing for a massive surge at a NON-WALLED area.”

Trump appeared to be referringto the Customs and Border Patrol’s training exercise in Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday, where agents prepared “to deal with the potential of large crowds and assaultive behavior by caravan members, should a situation arise.”

Trump also mentioned the Democratic lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who refused to support Trump’s plans for a $5 billion down payment to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border.

“WE WILL NOT LET THEM THROUGH,” Trump tweeted. “Big danger. Nancy and Chuck must approve Boarder Security and the Wall!”

Trump’s rapid-fire tweets came the night before Mueller’s deadline to submit documents outlining what the special counsel’s office has described as the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s “crimes and lies,” including allegations he lied in violation of his plea deal with the special counsel. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel while pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of conspiracy against the US in September.

Trump followed up with a series of five tweets on Friday morning in which he repeated his common refrain that the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” and accused Mueller of having multiple conflicts of interest, including being “Best Friends” with former FBI Director James Comey, who was set to testify to Congress on Friday.

The special counsel’s team also Friday was expected to submit its sentencing recommendation for the former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to financial crimes and, more recently, lying to Congress.

Mueller’s office released a similar recommendation this week for the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who cooperated with investigators after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

Trump’s tweets on Friday morning Trump targeted Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Trump accused Weissmann of having a “horrible and vicious prosecutorial past” and said he “wrongly destroyed people’s lives” — referring to a conviction he made against an Enron auditor that waslater overturned by the Supreme Court.

Trump also accused members of Mueller’s team of having made donations to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and asked whether it would be included in Mueller’s report. He also revived his talking points alleging corruption in the Democratic National Committee and on Clinton’s campaign.

[Business Insider]

Treasury proposes postal changes after Trump attacks on Amazon

President Donald Trump’s task force scrutinizing U.S. Postal Service operations is proposing an overhaul of the financially distressed agency, including changes to how it prices packages shipped by retailers like Amazon, a frequent target of the president’s attacks.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Treasury-led task force says the Postal Service should price packages “with profitability in mind” and impose higher rates on general e-commerce goods and other non-essential items sent through the mail.

Trump commissioned the report earlier this year after months of attacking Amazon for, in his view, ripping off USPS and treating the agency like its “Delivery Boy.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos privately owns The Washington Post, and Trump, who slams the Post’s coverage as unfair, often conflates the newspaper with the e-commerce giant, even calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”

The report’s recommendations are broad and sweeping. They call for stronger oversight by the Postal Service Board of Governors — which sat empty for much of Trump’s presidency. They also encourage the agency to consider other revenue streams, such as renting out unused real estate to businesses, charging outside shippers for access to people’s mail boxes and issuing hunting and fishing licenses.

But the ideas for package rates are likely to draw the most scrutiny, given the president’s attacks on Amazon. The task force says the Postal Service should distinguish between essential items, such as medication or tax notices, and non-essential items, such as consumer products — and mark up the latter to generate more income.

The administration on Tuesday denied that it’s targeting Amazon, saying the report’s recommendations would hit the coffers of all retailers with a large volume of online sales.

“None of our findings or recommendations are linked to any one customer or competitor of the Postal Service,” said a senior administration official. “We based our analysis on the needs of the entire economy and all its businesses.”

But Trump’s frequent rants about Amazon hover over the findings.

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” Trump tweeted in April shortly before the White House announced the task force. “Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”

The president told The Daily Caller last month that Amazon is “getting the bargain of the century,” adding, “I think that’s why I’ve asked for a review.”

The task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, spent weeks meeting with companies and trade associations in affected industries like retail and package delivery. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies have also been involved. A report was initially delivered to the White House in August, though its public release was delayed until later in the year.

The senior administration official said the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission can enact some of the changes, including increasing package prices, without intervention from Congress, but said other proposed changes would require lawmakers to act.

For more than a decade, the Postal Service has logged billion-dollar loses, resulting in a total cumulative deficit of nearly $63 billion as of September. But those losses are not driven by Amazon or other big shippers of packages. Instead, much of it can be attributed to the decline of letter mail in the internet era and the mandatory payments that Congress has ordered the Postal Service to make into a retiree benefits fund. The task force recommends restructuring that obligation, but not doing away with it altogether.

The report does not call for privatizing the Postal Service, despite the Trump administration saying in June that it wanted to do so as part of a government reorganization.

Amazon did not immediately comment, but an industry coalition that represents the e-commerce giant warned the report could cause widespread economic damage.

“If it were to be adopted in its entirety I think we would be approaching a worst-case scenario from a consumer and business perspective,” said John McHugh, a congressman-turned-lobbyist who leads the so-called Package Coalition, saying Congress should be involved in changing longstanding Postal Service regulations.

Amazon, like other bulk users of the Postal Service, negotiates a special shipping rate that is not publicly disclosed. Though Amazon would pay below the standard rate, by law, those negotiated arrangements must cover the cost of shipping the packages — meaning the post office cannot lose money on them as Trump claims. Each agreement is evaluated and endorsed by the Postal Regulatory Commission and approved by the Postal Service Board of Governors.

Package delivery has been a rare bright spot on the Postal Service’s earnings statement. Mail carriers are delivering more packages than ever before — as the number of standard letters steadily declines — bringing in $21.5 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year.

Amazon has been developing other delivery options in anticipation that the Postal Service cannot accommodate its rapid growth. It runs a service in which contract drivers drop orders at customers’ doors and recently announced it would lease trucks to entrepreneurs to start delivery services. The company has also experimented with aerial drones and, according to media reports, self-driving vehicles, though those are still years away from adoption because of technological and regulatory hurdles.

The investments could help Amazon lessen the sting of a rate hike over the long term or gradually move away from the Postal Service altogether if shipping expenses become too prohibitive. Industry advocates have warned that fewer packages would only mean more pain for the agency’s bottom line.

Trump’s most direct impact on the Postal Service could be appointees to the Board of Governors. The body plays a key role approving so-called negotiated service agreements, giving it a hand in how much Amazon and others must pay for postal services. The board could, in theory, send Postal Service negotiators back to the table if such deals are not judged to be in the agency’s best interest.

The board sat entirely vacant for the first 18 months of Trump’s presidency. He’s so far nominated people for three of the nine board seats, two of whom were approved by Senate-wide vote in late August.

[Politico]

Trump: Roger Stone has ‘guts’ for not testifying against me

President Donald Trump on Monday praised longtime associate Roger Stone for refusing to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, as the president continues to denounce the investigation.

“‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out-of-control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump,'” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!'”

Stone, who has come under scrutiny in Mueller’s Russia probe for possible contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, said on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that there’s “no circumstance in which I would testify against the president.” He has denied multiple times that he had any direct knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Stone also said Sunday that he has not discussed a pardon for himself or for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in a financial fraud trial brought by Mueller. The president told the New York Post last week that he has “never discussed” a pardon for Manfort, but “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon,” Stone said over the weekend.

Trump on Twitter also continued to denounce Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign, claiming without evidence that the special counsel “only wants lies.”

Stone during his Sunday interview claimed that Mueller wanted him to “bear false witness against” Trump, adding that he “would have to make things up.”

“Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies,” Trump tweeted Monday. “The truth is very bad for their mission!”

[Politico]

Trump: Cohen should go to prison

President Trump on Monday said Michael Cohen does not deserve leniency for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that his former personal lawyer should serve a “full and complete” prison sentence.

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free [sic],” Trump wrote on Twitter of Cohen. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Trump sought to further distance himself from his onetime ally by incorrectly claiming that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

Cohen in August pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations, implicating Trump in a dramatic court hearing during which Cohen also pleaded to a slew of financial crimes stemming from his private business dealings.

Last week, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Russia, a central matter in Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The former Trump lawyer asked a federal judge to spare him prison time, in part, because he said he lied to lawmakers in order to “to support and advance [Trump’s] political messaging.” Trump was referred to in court as Individual 1.

His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Cohen’s plea has angered Trump, who is facing growing legal and political danger as a result of his former ally’s cooperation.

While he blasted Cohen for turning against him, the president encouraged other people tied up in the Mueller probe to show loyalty.

Trump praised his on-again, off-again adviser, Roger Stone, for refusing to cooperate with investigators.

“He will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” Trump wrote of Stone.

Stone has come under scrutiny for his alleged ties to WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russians from Democratic officials during the 2016 campaign.

[The Hill]

Trump says he will withdraw from NAFTA, pressuring Congress to approve new trade deal

President Donald Trump said he intends to formally notify Canada and Mexico of his intention to withdraw from the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA agreement in six months. The move would put pressure on Congress to approve his new trade deal with the two U.S. neighbors.

“I’ll be terminating it within a relatively short period of time. We get rid of NAFTA. It’s been a disaster for the United States,” Trump said on board Air Force One after departing Buenos Aires, where he signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with the leaders of those two countries.

“And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well,” Trump added.

Trump’s comments confirmed what many have long suspected — that he would use the act of withdrawing from NAFTA as a cudgel to force Congress into passing the new deal.

But it also could be seen as an admission that the new agreement is not popular enough to be approved on its own merits, so Trump has to use the threat of disrupting the entire North American economy to round up the votes in Congress to get the deal past the finish line.

While a number of business groups do support the new deal because it contains new provisions on digital trade and strengthens intellectual property rights protections, others are simply relieved that it would keep much of the original agreement in place.

House Democrats, who are likely to hold the key to whether the new agreement is approved, have complained that labor and environmental provisions are not strong enough and have signaled they would like those concerns addressed as part of the implementing legislation.

Trump’s untested move would send the administration and Congress into a legal wilderness. The NAFTA deal includes a provision that allows a withdrawal after providing a six-month notice, but opinions differ on whether the president can act on his own.

Lawmakers passed legislation to implement the original deal in 1993. It’s uncertain whether a withdrawal initiated by the president would repeal the law that put the deal into force.

The president needs to take a look at the Constitution — it gives Congress authority over trade,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in September. “The president cannot pull America out of NAFTA without Congress’s permission.”

A 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service seems to be back up that position.

“It could be argued that because international trade is an area of shared constitutional authority, Congress must have a role in any decision by the United States to terminate or withdraw from an FTA,” CRS said.

Others argue Congress ceded authority to the executive branch decades ago that would allow Trump to terminate trade deals. They say Section 125 of the Trade Act of 1974 provides the underlying legal basis for a president to terminate or withdraw from an agreement and revoke any tariff reductions.

[Politico]

Trump’s new Russia deal defense: Just business as usual

President Donald Trump’s story about his business pursuits in Russia has shifted again.

As a candidate and afterward, Trump said repeatedly that he didn’t have any business dealings with Russia.

“I have no dealings with Russia,” he said shortly before his inauguration in 2017. “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”

The truth was more complicated than Trump suggested: He had long relied on Russian investors for projects in other parts of the world, and long sought to develop real estate in Russia.

And now, with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen having pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts to develop a Trump Tower project in Moscow, the president has added a new layer to his take, arguing that it would be perfectly fine for him to have pursued the Oval Office and a high-end business opportunity in Russia at the same time.

“We were thinking about building a building,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”

Prosecutors say Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress by saying that the Moscow Trump Tower project was nixed in January 2016 — before the Iowa caucuses — even though he continued to pursue it on Trump’s behalf as late as June 2016. That’s the same month that top Trump advisers took a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with Russian emissaries who had promised to provide political dirt on then-presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

There’s no law barring a candidate who doesn’t already hold office from continuing to do business during a campaign — and no requirement to disclose such activity — but veteran lawyers say Trump could have a problem if discussions over the Trump Tower project were tied to potential actions once he won the presidency.

“If additional facts show that the negotiations were part of a broader quid pro quo with Russians/oligarchs (Trump gets tower in exchange for some goodies once he is POTUS), then we are potentially into federal criminal conspiracy and campaign-law violations,” said Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and former member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation team, in an email to NBC News.

And Trump’s evasiveness on the question of whether he was seeking business in Moscow during the election raises the question of whether he was worried about political or legal exposure, according to Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC contributor.

“Lying about it certainly raises the implication that Trump himself believed that it was somehow untoward for a candidate to have business ventures with Russia,” she said. “And there could be a variety of legal problems here — tax, emoluments, what have you — that could come back to haunt the president.”

[News]

Trump might have renominated Yellen for Fed chair if she wasn’t so… short

President Donald Trump might have reappointed Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve if only she was a few inches taller.

A Washington Post report that quoted current and former officials said Trump on multiple occasions discussed giving Yellen another term at the central bank but was concerned over her height. He feared that at 5 feet and 3 inches she just wasn’t tall enough to get the job done.

The report said he expressed his misgivings to National Economic Council members and noted that Yellen “impressed [Trump] greatly” during their interview.

There have been some tongue-in-cheek comparisons made in the past to the height of Fed chairs and their propensity to raise rates, with 6-foot-9 Paul Volcker being the most aggressive. Powell is close to 6 feet tall.

Trump has been harshly critical of the Fed as its been run under Jerome Powell, whom he chose over Yellen. The president has objected to the interest rate increases under Powell, though Yellen also presided over hikes and the beginning of the reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet.

“Look, I took recommendations. I’m not blaming anybody,” Trump told the Post, despite reports that he blames Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for recommending Powell.

[CNBC]

Trump leaves press pool behind at National Christmas Tree lighting

President Trump on Wednesday departed the National Christmas Tree lighting event without White House staff notifying a pool of reporters assigned to monitor the president’s movements of his whereabouts following a logistical mixup.

Members of the protective press pool – a group of reporters assigned to remain with the president and document his activities – indicated shortly after 6:30 p.m. that Trump had returned to the White House without any warning or comment from staffers.

Reporters were briefly held at the Ellipse outside the White House without any immediate indication of where the president had gone. They were later notified that Trump had returned to the White House via motorcade without the press pool in tow.

Members of the press pool protested the situation on Twitter.

[The Hill]

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