Trump Says He Stands By MBS the Same Day Murdered Khashoggi Makes Time Person of the Year Cover

President Donald Trump sat down with Reuters’ White House reportersfor a robust Oval Office interview on the same day that the politically assassinated Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was featured on TIME’s Person of the Year issue.

Despite CIA findings that strongly suggest the Saudi Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman was behind the murder, and a recently entered bipartisan Senate Resolution condemning MBS’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s death, Trump is standing by the burgeoning leader of the Saudi Royal family, close political ally and suspected business partner for the Trump family business.

Reuters journalists Roberta RamptonJeff Mason, and Steve Hollandsat with the Commander in Chief, and among the many news items to emerge is Trump’s steadfast support of MBS.

report with bylines of Rampton and Holland claimed: “Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.”

Trump is quoted as defending his position, saying “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally.”

The White House and State Department have shown consistent support of the Saudi leader despite political pressure from leaked CIA reports and Congressional leaders of both parties. The article reports that, when asked “if standing by the kingdom meant standing by”  the Crown Prince, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Reuters reporters followed by asking if Trump believes that his continued support is critical to MBS ascension to King, as some in the Saudi Royal family are reportedly “agitating to prevent MBS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.”

Trump responded that he was unaware of that adding, “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

[Mediaite]

Trump’s 2020 Campaign Has Reportedly Funneled Over $1 Million Into His Own Businesses

Federal election filings analyzed by Forbes say that Trump’s 2020 campaign has raked in millions of dollar from donors while Trump himself has converted at least $1.1 million of those donor funds into his own money by charging “the campaign for hotels, food, rent and legal consulting.”

Trump Tower Commercial LLC is a New York State-based entity owned by the 45th president. As of the latest campaign finance filing, the entity had charged Trump’s re-election campaign at least $665,000 in rent. An additional $225,000 in rent payments have been made to this entity through a similar arrangement with the Republican National Committee (RNC).

The extent of the space currently being rented by the 2020 campaign and the RNC is currently unknown but reporter Dan Alexander‘s reporting suggests one of two things: an extreme amount of real estate is currently being occupied–or the Trump Tower business is heavily inflating real estate prices.

Per Forbes:

Leading up to the 2016 election, the president’s campaign paid an average of $2,700 in monthly Trump Tower rent for every person listed in campaign filings as receiving a “payroll” payment. The 2020 operation, by contrast, is shelling out an average of $6,300 in monthly rent for every such person.

And that’s not all.

There’s also the matter of a separate Trump-owned and New York State-based entity known as Trump Plaza LLC. This entity currently controls a retail space, a parking garage, and two medium-sized apartment buildings.

According to federal filings, the Trump 2020 campaign has paid Trump Plaza LLC at least $42,000 in rent since November 2017–but, according to Forbes, there doesn’t appear to be any campaign activity occurring on any such property owned by the entity.

For one, the retail space simply has nothing campaign-related going on whatsoever. Same goes for the parking garage–which appears to be sub-leased to a non-Trump company at present. As for the apartment buildings? It doesn’t look like there’s any campaign-related activity happening there either.

Again, Alexander’s report:

Forbes staked out the buildings, arriving at 7:15 a.m. one November morning and staying for the next 14 hours, with the exception of an 18-minute break around 3 p.m. By our count, seven people went in and out of the twin, four-story brownstones over the course of the day. One refused to talk, and six said they had not seen any sign of the campaign in the buildings. Nor had a man behind the front desk at Trump Plaza. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” he said. “If there was any kind of office rented out for campaigning or whatever, I would know about it.”

The report goes on to speculate that it’s “unlikely” Trump’s 2020 campaign would simply hand cash over to the president for “nothing in return,” and cites an unnamed Trump 2016 staffer who said that Trump Plaza apartments would occasionally serve as crash pads for Trump campaign staff. If that’s the case, of course, it would be a lot cheaper to occasionally rent hotel rooms, but, Alexander notes, “that would not guarantee a steady stream of rent for the president.”

Breaking down that revenue stream is also illustrative.

Since Trump Plaza LLC began charging Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign “rent” in November 2017,  such payments have averaged out to some $4,200 per month. Those amounts appear to be quite a bit above market value.

According to Forbes‘ recent perusal of real estate website StreetEasy, recent rents in the same brownstone apartments have gone for $3,700 and $3,850–substantially lower prices (especially in the fiercely competitive Manhattan real estate market) than what Trump’s campaign has been paying the president’s own business for alleged campaign use of those circumspect properties.

And even if it doesn’t seem like much of up-charge? According to Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns are supposed to pay “fair market value” for all goods and services they use–especially when they use and pay their own businesses.

[Law and Crime, Inquisitr]

Saudi-Funded Lobbyists Paid For 500 Nights At Trump D.C. Hotel Right After Election

Saudi Arabia-funded lobbyists paid for rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel within a month of the 2016 presidential election and kept coming back, racking up more than 500 nights worth of rooms in three months, The Washington Post reported, citing documents and organizers of the stays.

The Saudi-backed organizers were putting up veterans who were offered a free trip to Washington to help lobby against a law that Saudi Arabia opposed, the Post reported.

(Read the full Washington Post story.)

The lobbyists at first were hosting veterans in northern Virginia, but switched to the Trump hotel in December 2016. One organizer said the move was because the Trump International Hotel offered a discount from the usual $768 a night rate, and denied it was to try to gain favor with Trump.

But some of the vets the Post interviewed said they felt like they were being used twice ― to lobby for Saudi Arabia, and then again to bring business to Trump.

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Navy veteran Henry Garcia. He went on three trips, and said that what made the Trump hotel trips different from trips with other veterans groups were the private rooms, open bars and free dinners.

“We’ve done hundreds of veterans events, and we’ve stayed in Holiday Inns and eaten Ritz Crackers and lemonade. And we’re staying in this hotel that costs $500 a night,” said Marine veteran Dan Cord.

Trump’s business interests are in the spotlight once again as the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general served subpoenas on the Trump Organization and a dozen related businesses on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The subpoenas are seeking business documents that may show foreign payments to the hotel.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump is profiting from foreign and state spending at his D.C. hotel, in violation of the Constitution’s ban on gifts from foreign governments. The Justice Department has signaled it may try to fight the evidence-gathering process.

Trump has defended the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even after intelligence agencies fingered the prince in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi royal family and its allies have spent tens of millions on Trump hotels and condos.

[Huffington Post]

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]

A new warning to federal employees: No talk of ‘Resistance’ or opinions about impeachment at work

The federal government has issued a new guidance for the political activity of federal government workers, warning that weighing in on impeachment or talking about “the Resistance” may constitute prohibited activity, in what some ethics advocates say could be an opening to limit dissent.

The Office of Special Counsel is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work. The office, not to be confused with special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation, is run by Henry Kerner, whom President Donald Trump nominated to the post.

The unsigned “Guidance Regarding Political Activity,” which was issued on Tuesday, takes the form of a question and answer and seeks to clarify the types of actions and rhetoric considered political activity and therefore prohibited at work.

In a nod to the current climate, it stipulated that advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office would be considered political because of its implications for future elections and that any use of terms like “resistance” and “#resist” would be construed as political activity.

But some government watchdogs said they feared the guidelines could have wide-ranging effects on the nearly 3 million federal government employees in the United States, as well as other state and local employees who work with federally funded programs. The ethics nonprofit American Oversight said the guidance raised “significant concerns” in a letter it sent to the office on Thursday, urging it to withdraw the memo.

“OSC’s position on impeachment advocacy or opinions goes too far,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, wrote in the letter, adding that “certainly there is a difference between advocating that an official should (or should not) be elected and advocating that an official did (or did not) commit treason or high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution.”

In particular, Evers expressed concern that the guidelines could constrain whistleblowers.

“As OSC knows well, it is critically important to ensure public employees are comfortable raising concerns about waste, fraud, or abuse in the government,” he wrote. “Impeachment is primarily a remedy for severe misconduct. If public employees are aware of conduct that could be impeachable but fear civil or criminal liability under the Hatch Act for saying so, they may be reluctant to approach OSA, inspectors general, or Congress.”

Nick Schwellenbach, the director of investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and an employee of the OSC from 2014 to 2017, said he felt the guidance likely crossed a legal line, saying the Hatch Act was meant to be narrowly focused on political activities around parties and candidates.

“The way OSC has traditionally balanced its enforcement of that statute with the First Amendment is [focused on] supporting a candidate or political party for election. I think once you start talking about more general political views, you’re starting to infringe upon people’s rights,” he said. “This one, I think, goes too far for them. It runs the risk of turning the OSC into an Orwellian enforcer inside the federal workforce.”

Schwellenbach said he believed the guidance could be successfully challenged in court on its constitutionality.

Evers also worried that the restrictions could be used to hem in employees abilities to weigh in on policy discussions.

“If resistance terminology can become inherently ‘political activity,’ so too could statements like ‘Build the Wall’ or ‘Protect our Care,’ which reflect policy positions that nonetheless are tied to the president’s campaign positions,” he wrote. “In addition, conflating resistance terminology with electoral advocacy opens the door to public employees being retaliated against for their policy positions or opinions. … If using resistance terminology is categorically barred under OSC’s Hatch Act interpretation, it could create new, insidious tools for appointees to target public employees.”

The Office of Special Counsel did not return an immediate request for comment.

[Chicago Tribune]

Trump Wanted To Illegally Steal Iraqi Oil To Pay for Wars

President Trump twice raised to the Iraqi prime minister the idea of repaying America for its wars with Iraqi oil, a highly controversial ask that runs afoul of international norms and logic, sources with direct knowledge tell me.

  • Trump appears to have finally given up on this idea, but until now it hasn’t been revealed that as president he’s raised the concept twice with Iraq’s prime minister and brought it up separately in the Situation Room with his national security team.

In March last year, at the end of a White House meeting with Iraq’s then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Trump brought up the subject of taking oil from Iraq to reimburse the United States for the costs of the war there.

  • “It was a very run-of-the-mill, low-key, meeting in general,” a source who was in the room told Axios. “And then right at the end, Trump says something to the effect of, he gets a little smirk on his face and he says, ‘So what are we going to do about the oil?'”

Between the lines: On the campaign trail, Trump complained that the U.S. had spent trillions in Iraq and lost thousands of lives but got “nothing” in return. He lamented that usually in war “to the victor belong the spoils” and he repeatedly said the U.S. should have seized Iraq’s oilfields as reimbursement for the steep costs of the war.

  • Top national security figures from both parties condemned Trump’s idea, calling it outrageous and unworkable — a violation of international law that would fuel the propaganda of America’s foes.

In the March meeting, the Iraqi prime minister replied, “What do you mean?” according to the source in the room. “And Trump’s like, ‘Well, we did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil.'”

Al-Abadi “had clearly prepared,” the source added, “and he said something like, ‘Well, you know Mr. President, we work very closely with a lot of American companies and American energy companies have interests in our country,'” the source added. “He was smirking. And the president just kind of tapped his hand on the table as if to say ‘I had to ask.'”

  • “I remember thinking, ‘Wow. He said it. He couldn’t help himself,'” the source said.
  • A second source who was in the room confirmed this account. “It was a look down and reach for your coffee moment,” the second source said.
  • A third source, who was briefed at the time on the conversation between Trump and al-Abadi, told me the back and forth “made its rounds” around the National Security Council. “It was still early on in the administration, and we were all still trying to figure out how this was going to go, and so it was one of those horror stories … he’s really going to do this.”

Why it matters: Trump’s desire to raid Iraq’s oil is illegal and unworkable. But it reveals a great deal about his approach to the Middle East. Trump remains hellbent on extracting payments from Middle Eastern countries, in the form of natural resources, for the trillions of dollars America has spent since the early 2000s. Bob Woodward and others have reported on the formal steps Trump took to push his team to extract rare minerals from Afghanistan as repayment for the war. (Security concerns have stymied that effort; though Afghan’s leadership was more open to Trump’s pitch than Iraq’s leaders have been.)

Trump’s national security team has mostly pushed back on or ignored these desires to raid Middle Eastern natural resources. The president raised the issue of oil again with al-Abadi on a phone call in the summer of 2017. The conversation was vague and didn’t go anywhere, but H.R. McMaster admonished Trump afterward, according to a source with direct knowledge.

  • In the source’s recollection, the former national security adviser said to Trump, “We can’t do this and you shouldn’t talk about it. Because talking about it is just bad,” the source said, channeling McMaster, “It’s bad for America’s reputation, it’ll spook allies, it scares everybody, and it makes us look like — I don’t remember if he used words this harsh — like criminals and thieves, but that was the point he was trying to get across.”
  • “You won’t be able to do it anyway and you’ll harm our reputation and your own reputation just from talking about it.”

Trump did not react kindly, the source said. “It was frustration that he was trying to get his advisers to do things that he wanted them to do and they were just pushing back.”

The bottom line: It’s not a one-time thing. Two sources described being in the Situation Room in 2017 with Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis and national security officials discussing Iraq. Both said Trump brought up the prospect of seizing Iraq’s oil, and Mattis pushed back.

  • “Trump was like, ‘We’re idiots,'” recalled one of the sources who was in the Situation Room for the conversation. “[Trump] was like, ‘What are we doing there, what do we get out of this, why don’t we take the oil?’… And then Mattis spoke up. Made the same point that H.R. made. There’s no physical way to do it. It would be a violation of international law, it would be demoralizing for allies in the region, it would give our enemies propaganda — they’d be able to accuse us of theft.”

Asked about our reporting, Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said, “We do not discuss internal deliberations, and the secretary’s advice and counsel to the president is private.” And an NSC spokesperson said, “We do not comment on the details of the president’s conversations with foreign leaders.”

[Axios]

Trump Warns ‘Whole Border’ Could Be Shut: We May ‘Close Entry Into the Country for a Period of Time’

After speaking with members of the military who are deployed around the world, President Donald Trump took questions from the media, and said that he might have to close the southern border altogether.

He talked about the border, as he did on the call with the military members, and said that the U.S. border had been entirely closed two days ago, and may have to be closed again.

Speaking specifically about the caravan, Trump said that if the military has to, they’ll use lethal force. He cited the reaction of the people of Tijuana, Mexico to the massive influx of people from the caravan.

“You ask the people in Tijuana, Mexico, they opened up with wide arms, just come in, come in, let me help you, let us take care of you. And within two days, now they’re going crazy to get them out. They want them out,” he said. “Because things are happening, bad things are happening in Tijuana. And again, it’s not in this country because we’ve closed it up.”

“Actually, two days ago, we closed the border. We actually just closed it. We say nobody is coming in because it was out of control,” he said.

A reporter asked, “What do you mean you closed the border and nobody is coming in? What do you mean by that?”

“If we find that it’s uncontrollable, Josh, if we find that it’s — it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control,” he answered.

A reporter asked, “do you mean the entire border?”

“The whole border. I mean the whole border,” the President confirmed. “And Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the United States where they make so many at great benefit to them — not a great benefit to us, by the way. But at least now we have a good new trade deal with Mexico and with Canada. But we will close the border. And that means that Mexico is not going to be able to sell their cars into the United States until it’s open.”

“We’re going to either have a border or we’re not. And when they lose control of the border on the Mexico side, we just close the border,” he repeated. “And we have a very powerful border. We built a very strong border in a very short period of time.”

[Mediaite]

Trump picks handbag designer, Mar-a-Lago member to be envoy to South Africa

President Donald Trump has nominated handbag designer Lana Marks to be the next US ambassador to South Africa.

Marks, a Florida resident and member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a source familiar with the club, was born and raised in South Africa, where she attended the University of the Witwatersrand and the Institute of Personnel Management in Johannesburg, the White House said in a statement.

Marks is photographed and quoted giving a warm testimonial on the website of Mar-a-Lago’s official photographer, saying she had captured her daughter’s wedding at the club “in a very special way.”

Marks is known for luxury handbags in exotic animal skins, such as ostrich and alligator, with prices that can hover above $19,000. One of her more expensive creations, a $400,000 clutch, has been carried on the red carpet. The designer’s website features photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston carrying her goods and says her accessories have become a favorite among “royalty and entertainment style makers.”

Ballet and tennis

Described by the Palm Beach Daily as “like Trump, a relentless self-promoter,” Marks speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, two of South Africa’s languages, according to the White House.

Her website chronicles an upbringing that included studying at the Royal Academy of Ballet. The concept for starting an exotic leather handbag line came, the site says, when Marks couldn’t find a bag to match the suit she planned to wear to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth. According to her Instagram accountshe attempted to qualify for the French Open tennis tournament in 1978.

Marks’ site also notes that she was appointed to the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, which supports the Women and Public Policy Program. Both the board and the program focus on gender equality and improving lives around the world, the Harvard site says. The Harvard site notes that board members “engage philanthropically” with the policy program “through three annual giving tiers.”

Board members provide a minimum annual gift of $10,000 per individual member, $20,000 per Leadership Circle member and $25,000 per corporation.

[CNN]

Trump says he tells the truth, “when I can”

President Trump, who has frequently made false and misleading statements while in office, told ABC News’ Jon Karl that he tried to tell the truth, “when [he] can”.

“Well, I try. I do try … When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that’s different or there’s a change, but I always like to be truthful.”

By the numbers: The Washington Post’s Fact Checker reported last month that Trump made more than 5,000 false or misleading statements in the first 601 days of his presidency, an average of 8.3 claims a day.

[Axios]

White House Reiterates Trump Call for Investigation of Anonymous Opinion Writer

The White House press secretary on Monday called for the Justice Department to investigate who wrote an anonymous opinion column last week that was critical of President Trump, echoing the president’s demand for such a probe.

“If that individual is in meetings where national security is discussed or other important topics, and they are attempting to undermine the executive branch, that would certainly be problematic and something that the Department of Justice should look into,” Sarah Sanders told reporters at Monday’s briefing.

Mr. Trump last week said he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch an investigation into who in his administration penned the column in the New York Times, which was attributed only to a senior administration official and said there was a secret resistance movement at work in Mr. Trump’s administration that aims to curtail his “worst inclinations.”

The president said he was concerned the author may be involved in discussions about national security issues. “I don’t want him in those meetings,” he said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday. When Mr. Trump raised the prospect of an investigation last week, a department spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t confirm or deny investigations.

Presidents typically avoid calling for Justice Department investigations, particularly ones related to their own administrations, to avoid the perception they are interfering in department matters. Mr. Trump has done so on multiple occasions.

A parade of senior members of Mr. Trump’s administration publicly denied writing the column last week.

Ms. Sanders declined on Monday to say what crime the author of the column may have committed. “I’m not an attorney,” she said. “It’s the Department of Justice’s job to make that determination, and we’re asking them to look into it.”

Asked whether the president was aware that the column was protected under the First Amendment, Ms. Sanders said: “It’s less about that part of it, and whether or not somebody is actively trying to undermine the executive branch of the government and a duly elected president.”

She declined to say whether the White House was launching an internal search for the column’s author, whom she called “gutless.” “We’re certainly focused on things that actually matter,” she said.

[Wall Street Journal]

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