Yellowstone chief says Trump administration forcing him out: ‘I feel this is a punitive action’

Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent said Thursday that he’s being forced out in an apparent “punitive action” following disagreements with the Trump administration over how many bison the park can sustain, a longstanding source of conflict between park officials and ranchers in neighboring Montana.

Superintendent Dan Wenk announced last week that he intended to retire March 30, 2019, after being offered a transfer he didn’t want. He said he was informed this week by National Park Service Acting Director Paul “Dan” Smith that a new superintendent will be in place in August and that Wenk will be gone by then.

“I feel this is a punitive action, but I don’t know for sure. They never gave me a reason why,” Wenk said. The only dispute he’s had with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the park service, was whether the park has too many bison, Wenk said.

Ranchers in neighboring Montana have long sought reductions in Yellowstone’s bison numbers because of worries that they could spread the disease brucellosis to cattle and compete with livestock for grazing space outside the park. Brucellosis causes animals to prematurely abort their young and can be transmitted through birthing material. It also can infect people.

Park biologists contend the population of more than 4,000 bison is sustainable. But Zinke and his staff have said the number is too high, Wenk said, and raised concerns that Yellowstone’s scenic Lamar Valley is being damaged by overgrazing.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, has paid close attention to projects back home, including proposing a new national monument near Glacier National Park even as he pushed reductions to monuments elsewhere in the U.S. That’s stirred speculation he has future political ambitions in the state.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift declined to comment directly on Wenk’s assertions or the issue of bison management. She referred The Associated Press to a previously issued statement saying President Donald Trump had ordered a reorganization of the federal government and that Zinke “has been absolutely out front on that issue.”

Wenk said he had multiple conversations with Zinke and his staff about bison, most recently this week.

“We’re not a livestock operation. We’re managing a national park with natural systems,” he said. “We do not believe the bison population level is too high or that any scientific studies would substantiate that.”

The livestock industry wants Yellowstone’s bison herds reduced to 3,000 animals, a population target specified in a 2000 agreement between Montana and the federal government. Montana Stockgrowers Association interim vice president Jay Bodner said Zinke “understands the issues around bison, not only in the park but how that impacts the livestock issue.”

[NBC News]

Donald Trump: No White House invitation for Cavs’ LeBron James, Warriors’ Steph Curry or teams

President Donald Trump told reporters Friday morning that he will not invite the Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors to visit the White House following the conclusion of this year’s NBA Finals.

Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Warriors guard Stephen Curry said their teams had no interest in a prospective White House visit.

“I didn’t invite LeBron James, and I didn’t invite Steph Curry. We’re not going to invite either team,” Trump told reporters before departing for Canada, where he will participate in the G7 Summit.

“But we have other teams that are coming. If you look, we had Alabama — national champion. We had Clemson, national champion. We had the New England Patriots. We had the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.”

Trump also said he believes the Washington Capitals will make a visit to the White House after clinching their first Stanley Cup title with a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night. The president congratulated the team on Twitter earlier Friday.

“I think we’ll have the Caps. We’ll see,” Trump told reporters. “You know, my attitude is if they want to be here, the greatest place on Earth, I’m here. If they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them.”

In a similar situation last year, Trump uninvited the Warriors from visiting the White House after Curry and other prominent members of the team said they weren’t interested in attending a ceremony. The move prompted a tweet from James, who wrote “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Professional and college sports teams have long celebrated championships with a ceremonial visit to the White House, but the tradition has become increasingly controversial under Trump.

Just this week, the president abruptly uninvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from visiting the White House, in part because they planned to bring a “smaller delegation” rather than their full team. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders accused the Eagles of pulling “a political stunt.”

The Minnesota Lynx, the reigning WNBA champions, did not receive an invitation to the White House and instead spent a day performing community service in Washington this week.

[USA Today]

Media

 

 

 

 

Trump says he’s considering pardon for Muhammad Ali, who doesn’t need one

President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering granting a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali — prompting a lawyer for his estate and family to say thanks, but no thanks: The boxing great had his criminal conviction overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago.

Trump, who has issued several pardons and commutations in recent weeks, told reporters that he was “thinking about Muhammad Ali,” for a pardon.

“He was not very popular then, his memory is very popular now,” Trump said at the White House shortly before a departure for the G-7 summit in Quebec City, Canada. “I’m thinking about that very seriously.”

Not long after, an attorney for Ali’s estate and family responded, saying that a pardon wouldn’t be necessary.

“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971,” Ron Tweel, who has represented Ali and his family since 1986, told NBC News. “There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”

But even though there is no Ali conviction on the books — the usual reason for a pardon — former DOJ pardon attorneys say it’s too limited to think of a pardon as simply a conviction eraser.

“A pardon is an act of forgiveness,” says former pardon attorney Samuel Morrison. “The pardon is for the conduct, regardless of whether there was or still is a conviction.”

For example, In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty, which is a pardon for a group, to all Vietnam-era draft evaders, many of whom had never been convicted.

Ali, who died in 2016, was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title after he refused, in 1967, to report for induction to fight in the Vietnam War, declaring himself a conscientious objector and citing his Muslim faith.

Ali appealed his conviction, allowing him to remain out of prison, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971 in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics — or from criticizing Trump. In December 2015, he released a statement slamming then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali said.

Meanwhile, Trump, who recently pardoned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ, also said that he has a list of several thousand other names that he is reviewing for potential pardons.

Trump added that he was “looking at literally thousands of names.”

Trump has issued several pardons and commutations so far in his presidency.

In addition to his posthumous pardon last month of Johnson, the African-American boxing legend who was convicted under a law that was used as a deterrent to interracial dating, Trump has also issued pardons to conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws; Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who is a favorite of immigration hard-liners; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to authorities during an investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; and Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a nuclear submarine.

On Wednesday, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison on drug charges, after reality star Kim Kardashian West lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on her behalf.

Trump has also hinted at pardoning lifestyle and home merchandise mogul Martha Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 on charges related to insider stock trading, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges, including attempting to solicit bribes in exchange for President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat.

[NBC News]

Trump calls for Russia to be reinstated to G-7, threatens allies on trade

President Trump on Friday said Russia should be readmitted to the Group of Seven leading economies, breaking with other world leaders who have insisted that Moscow remain ostracized after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“Now, I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare . . . . But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting,” Trump said Friday as he left the White House. “Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run . . . . They should let Russia come back in.”

Trump’s comments, made just hours before he arrived in Canada for the annual G-7 summit, have further scrambled talks with other leaders, most of whom were already fuming about the U.S. leader’s protectionist trade policies. But in a sign that European unity against Trump is cracking, new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he agreed with Trump and wanted Russia back in the fold.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and part of this year’s G-7 summit was supposed to focus on protecting democracies from foreign meddling. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating Russian interference efforts, including whether Trump’s campaign colluded in any way with Russian officials, a probe that has become an obsession for the president.

Trump’s suggestion that Russia be readmitted to the G-7 was heavily criticized by political opponents back home, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said Trump was “turning our foreign policy into an international joke.”

“We need the president to be able to distinguish between our allies and adversaries, and to treat each accordingly,” Schumer said. “On issue after issue, he’s failed to do that.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also spoke out against Trump’s suggestion, saying in a statement that “Vladimir Putin chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Nothing he has done since then has changed that most obvious fact.”

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was among the first lawmakers to call for Russia’s ejection from the G-8.

In the past several months, Trump has pushed to completely overturn many of the post-World War II institutions put in place to strengthen global ties. These tensions have created immense strain ahead of the summit in Canada, with top leaders questioning if they are in the midst of a transformational disruption brought on by the United States.

“The rules-based international order is being challenged,” European Commission President Donald Tusk told reporters here. “Quite surprisingly, not by the usual suspects but by its main architect and guarantor, the U.S. … We will not stop trying to convince our American friends and President Trump that undermining this order makes no sense at all.”

In response to Trump’s proposal for Russia, Tusk said it would only make the group more divisive.

“For today, I think it’s much more important to convince our American partners to strengthen our format as guarantor of world order, than to look for something new, more challenging, more difficult,” he said.

Moscow didn’t rush to publicly embrace Trump’s pronouncement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia preferred to emphasize “other formats” of international talks. Lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign relations committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the country should only rejoin the group on its own terms — “with sanctions removed and interests respected.”

“The G-8 needs Russia much more than Russia needs the G-8,” Kosachev said in a statement.

Some other members of the G-7, including the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany and France, are unlikely to agree to Trump’s call for readmitting Russia, meaning the suggestion could further divide the group and make it even more ineffectual.

In an interview with Sky News on Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was important to “engage with Russia.”

But, she added, “Let’s remember why the G-8 became the G-7. And before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different route.”

A version of the G-7 or G-8 has existed since the 1970s, designed to try to build a consensus among world leaders to tackle global challenges.

Trump has sought to improve relations between the United States and Russia since taking office, though he has faced steep criticism from lawmakers in both parties for doing so. The U.S. government and other nations have imposed strict sanctions on Russia related to its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Trump on Friday also reiterated his plans to take a tough stance on trade with U.S. allies at the summit, threatening again to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’re going to deal with the unfair trade practices . . . . We have to change it, and they understand it’s going to happen,” Trump said. “If we’re unable to make a deal, we’ll terminate NAFTA. We’ll make a better deal.”

The comments marked the latest in a string of declarations in recent days that have completely redirected the focus the G-7, an organization Trump has shown little regard for since taking office last year.

In an earlier Twitter post, Trump said the United States would emerge victorious if other nations refused to accede to his trade demands, suggesting that he plans to employ a take-it-or-leave-it bargaining position with other world leaders at the summit here.

“Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries,” Trump wrote. “If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!”

Thursday evening, when tensions between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to be boiling over, the U.S. leader vowed to impose new tariffs and other economic penalties against Canada and the European Union if they did not allow more U.S. imports into their countries.

“Take down your tariffs & barriers or we will more than match you!” he wrote on Twitter. He did not specify what products he could target.

Trump effectively upended the two-day G-7 summit even before it began by raising the prospect of refusing to sign on to a joint statement with other leaders asserting commonly shared principles and values.

On Friday morning, a planned bilateral meeting between Trump and Macron was postponed, the White House said, because Trump was running behind. Aides said they were working to reschedule what is expected to be a tense meeting later in the day.

Macron, Trudeau and other world leaders spent much of 2017 tiptoeing around the new U.S. president, aware of his “America First” agenda but hoping to draw him closer to multinational organizations that they believe can best address global issues. But in recent weeks, there have been signs that world leaders have scrapped that approach and now plan to deal with Trump in a more adversarial way, particularly after the White House announced it would begin imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from U.S. allies beginning in June.

Macron on Thursday said Trump was isolating the United States and suggested that foreign leaders might simply wait until Trump’s time in the White House has concluded before reengaging with the United States. Trump, meanwhile, said Trudeau was acting “indignant” and attacked the United States’ northern neighbor in a series of Twitter posts, focusing in part on Canadian dairy policy.

Trump is now engaged in a series of trade wars with numerous countries in Europe, North America and Asia, which could affect the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in goods, including automobiles, agricultural products and technology. He wants Europe and Japan to lower tariffs on imports of automobiles. He wants China to buy more agriculture and energy products from the United States. He is pushing Mexican leaders for a range of changes to NAFTA, and he wants that entire pact to expire after five years.

His view is that other countries have imposed unfair tariffs limiting U.S. imports for decades but that the United States has unwittingly allowed those countries to bring low-cost goods into the country, hurting American companies and workers.

Foreign leaders are aware of the shaky ground Trump is on when he levels these trade threats, as a growing number of congressional Republicans have expressed outrage, and some are trying to intervene to strip away his powers. So far, Trump has held these lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), at bay, but U.S. business groups — worried about the prospect of higher costs driven by Trump’s trade threats — are pushing Congress to act.

Trump is also scheduled to meet with Trudeau on Friday, and then he will leave the summit early Saturday, an unexpected schedule revision that will pull him out of discussions on climate change.

The United States is the world’s largest economy, giving Trump outsized influence with any decisions he makes to restructure trade relationships. Foreign leaders face difficult decisions over whether to agree to some of Trump’s trade demands to preserve relationships or refuse and risk Trump’s ire. The U.S. president, in his first 16 months in office, has made clear that few allies will be spared from his demands.

The G-7 and the newer, larger G-20 have had limited success in recent decades forming coalitions and resolving world issues, but they do strive to provide a forum for discussions. Trump has rejected many international forums, and during the G-7 summit in Italy last year he rode a golf cart behind the other six leaders as they walked down the street.

Still, the attacks Trump leveled at his allies this week have raised the notion for many that Trump is completely rejecting this model.

“Trump’s willingness to walk away from the key elements of the postwar international governance system suggest a major disruption is coming,” said Eswar Prasad, a trade expert and professor at Cornell University.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, appears to be enjoying an “I told you so” moment as it watches Trump’s escalating conflict with America’s closest allies. Putin has long spoken about the dangers of a world dominated by the United States, and on Thursday he said that with Trump’s metals tariffs, Europeans were getting their comeuppance for showing excessive deference to Washington — and getting a taste of the way the United States has long treated Russia.

“Our partners probably thought that these counterproductive policies would never affect them,” Putin said in his annual televised call-in show. “No one wanted to listen, and no one wanted to do anything to stop these tendencies. Here we are.”

[Washington Post]

Trump says he’s ‘not above the law’ but insists he can pardon himself

President Donald Trump said Friday he is “not above the law” while insisting he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself should criminal wrongdoing be unearthed in the probe into Russian election meddling in the 2016 election.

Top Democratic lawmakers expressed deep concern after Trump claimed earlier this week he was entitled to pardon himself, blasting the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into contacts between his campaign officials and Russia as “unconstitutional.” Trump’s assertion was further undercut by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who on Wednesday said Trump “obviously” shouldn’t pardon himself because “no one is above the law.”

The president, speaking to reporters outside the White House on Friday, expressed a similar sentiment when asked about the topic.

“No, I’m not above the law, I never want anybody to be above the law,” Trump said.

But Trump went on to stress that pardons “are a very positive thing for a president.” And the president reasserted his belief that he is entitled to pardon himself, even as he denied any wrongdoing.

“Yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself, but I’ll never have to do it because I didn’t do anything wrong and everybody knows it,” Trump said.

Trump has repeatedly slammed the probe by Mueller into Russian election interference as a “witch hunt,” and the White House and his legal team have called for the special counsel to wrap up its investigation.

[Politico]

Trump says Canada’s Trudeau is ‘being so indignant’ in trade spat

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday of “being so indignant,” as the two leaders prepared for a Group of Seven summit in Quebec on Friday that is likely to center on trade disagreements.

“Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things … but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!” Trump said on Twitter.

[Reuters]

Why Dr. Oz’s astrology tweet was so disappointing

We’re used to Dr. Oz broadcasting outrageous, pseudoscientific ideas on his hugely popular daytime TV show, The Dr. Oz Show. The cardiac surgeon has for years devoted large amounts of airtime to peddling all sorts of suspect detoxes, diets, and other health misinformation. (He does sometimes offer good health information too.)

Now, because 2018 is weird, Oz is a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition — an advisory board devoted to promoting healthy lifestyles across the nation. One might wonder if he’d clean up his act. But it’s not happening.

On Wednesday, he (or someone running the Twitter account in his name) tweeted out this doozy to 4.3 million followers. (It has since been deleted.)

First off, astrology isn’t real. Repeat after me: “Astrology isn’t real.” Sing it aloud: “Astrology isn’t real!”

It’s a pseudoscientific parlor game that tends to make a big deal out of insignificant coincidences. For example, Mercury in retrograde. Every few months, from our vantage point here on Earth, it looks like the planet Mercury is drawing loop-de-loops in the sky. It’s an illusion that this occurs because the Earth and Mercury are orbiting around the sun at different rates. But yet astrologers take it to mean there’s an increased chance of miscommunication, among other maladies.

Also, do you really believe that everyone born in the same month could possibly share the same cosmic destiny? What hooey!

Oz’s tweet has since been deleted. But the webpage it linked to is still up (as is another recent tweet about astrology and health). On Oz’s website, you can still find a slideshow of content explaining things like “when an Aries feels blocked, this pent-up energy may appear in the form of migraines, sinus issues, or even jaw tension.”

This is drawn from a 2017 episode of The Dr. Oz Show in which he invites astrologer Rebecca Gordon to explain the connection between horoscope and health. Gordon has been featured on the show several times. And it seems Gordon is returning to the show this week to discuss the same topic.

In 2017, Oz asked her to explain the link between horoscope and health, and she brought up Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, saying the “human body is actually shaped like a 5-pointed star.” (Does she mean that because our bodies have some star-like qualities, we’re influenced by stars? Who knows!)

The tweet is silly, and so is the astrology segment on the Dr. Oz show. And largely, yes, astrology is harmless.

It’s just always disappointing to see someone with such a big audience peddle such bunk — especially because a showman like Oz is exactly the type of person who could influence a showman like President Donald Trump.

Oz often touts alternative medicines and beliefs as ways to empower his viewers and give them hope.

In 2014, he testified before a Senate subcommittee about his role promoting “green coffee extract,” which he claimed aided in weight loss. “My job, I feel on the show, is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” he said. “And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look … for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

Hope can be helpful. But it’s often a lie.

[Vox]

Justice Department seizes reporter’s phone, email records in leak probe

The Department of Justice reportedly seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump.

The Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized years’ worth of records from journalist Ali Watkins’s time as a reporter at BuzzFeed News and Politico before she joined The Times in 2017 as a federal law enforcement reporter, according to the report Thursday.

Watkins was alerted by a prosecutor in February that the DOJ had years of records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies such as Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her.

Investigators did not receive the content of the records, according to The Times.

The newspaper reported that it learned of the letter on Thursday.

“It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department — through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process,” Watkin’s attorney Mark MacDougall said in a statement to The Times.

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

FBI agents reportedly contacted Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, James Wolfe, as part of a probe into unauthorized leaks.

Watkins reportedly did not answer the agents’ questions, however. Watkins told The Times that Wolfe did not act as a source for information during their relationship.

She also said she informed editors at BuzzFeed, Politico and The Times of the relationship.

BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith declined to comment for the Times report, while Politico didn’t immediately respond for its request for comment.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year that the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.

[The Hill]

Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 summit

President Trump on Thursday lashed out at the leaders of France and Canada over roiling trade disputes, setting the stage for a confrontational Group of Seven summit of major economic powers.

A day before leaving for the meeting in Canada, Trump singled out French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter for threatening to isolate the U.S. over his efforts to change global trade rules.

“Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers,” Trump wrote. “The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out.”

The president added: “Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”

The message shows the depth of Trump’s unhappiness about the summit, where he is expected to take major backlash over his trade policies.

Macron and Trudeau met in Ottawa, Canada, this week ahead of the summit and presented a united front against Trump’s tack toward protectionism.

Asked during a joint press conference if Trump does not care about “being isolated” from other world leaders, Macron responded, “Maybe, but nobody is forever.”

“The six countries of the G7 without the United States, are a bigger market taken together than the American market,” Macron said.

Macron threatened to sign a joint communique at the conclusion with the summit with five other nations — but not the U.S. — expressing their desire for free trade.

“The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,” he tweeted. “Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force.”

The president imposed steep steel and aluminum tariffs late last month on Canada, Mexico and the European Union — some of the U.S.’s closest allies.

The administration used a little-known legal provision that allows the president to unilaterally impose tariffs on those goods for national security reasons.

[The Hill]

Reality

U.S. goods and services trade with the EU totaled nearly $1.1 trillion in 2016.  Exports totaled $501 billion; Imports totaled $592 billion.  The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with the EU was $92 billion in 2016.

Trump: DOJ must not let Wasserman Schultz, aide ‘off the hook’

President Donald Trump on Thursday urged the Justice Department to not let Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and one of her former aides “off the hook,” suggesting the imbroglio over IT staffer Imran Awan allegedly committing fraud on a home equity loan is “a key to much of the corruption we see today.”

“Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook,” the president tweeted. “The Democrat I.T. scandal is a key to much of the corruption we see today.”

The remarks come amid reports Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, are poised to strike a plea dealover the investigation into their alleged conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Trump has publicly criticized his own Justice Department over the ongoing federal probe into Russian election meddling in 2016 and ties to his campaign while questioning why it has not more aggressively pursued alleged crimes by Democrats. “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues,” Trump tweeted of the investigation last week, adding, “Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?”

He has upended norms with his apparent attempts to pressure the Justice Department and has repeatedly denigrated Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe.

In a statement provided by her spokesman, Wasserman Schultz replied to the president’s tweet: “I’m focused on doing my job. Donald Trump should focus on doing his.”

Wasserman Schultz — part of the target of his most recent attack — was notably a vocal supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, during which she served as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Schultz resigned after the Democratic National Convention in 2016 amid criticisms of her handling of the primary bout between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and after the scandal surrounding the hacked DNC server.

Awan, a former House Democratic aide to Wasserman Schultz, was arrested on a bank fraud charge while trying to leave the country to travel to Pakistan in July. Accused of seeking to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a home equity loan for a rental property, in violation of the credit union’s policies, Awan pleaded not guilty to the charge.

In August, a grand jury widened the scope of the criminal indictment, with Awan and his wife facing new charges including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, making false statements on a loan or credit application, carrying out unlawful monetary transactions and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. They pleaded not guilty to the charges in September.

Conservative legislators and lawmakers have panned Wasserman Schultz for continuing to employ the IT staffer for months after he became the subject of criminal investigation. Awan was on the payroll for Wasserman Schultz until his indictment in July. Awan, who has worked for over two dozen House Democrats, has been at the center of a criminal probe related to alleged procurement theft on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans have raised questions over whether Awan’s work posed a national security threat.

Trump on Thursday implicated efforts to strike a plea deal in the Awan case as part of a conspiracy to obscure information on Democratic servers.

“They want to make a ‘plea deal’ to hide what is on their Server. Where is Server? Really bad!” Trump added on Twitter.

[Politico]

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