White House: It’s in ‘Public Interest’ for Staff to Skirt Ethics Rules to Meet With Fox News

It is “in the public interest” for the White House’s top communicator to be excused from federal ethics laws so he can meet with Fox News, according to President Donald Trump’s top lawyer.

Bill Shine, Trump’s newly minted communications director, and Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economist, who worked at CNBC before his White House post, have both been excused from provisions of the law, which seeks to prevent administration officials from advancing the financial interests of relatives or former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” wrote White House counsel Don McGahn in a July 13 memo granting an ethics waivers to Shine, a former Fox executive. “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

The news media has been a particular object of those waivers. Early in the administration, after The Daily Beast questioned the propriety of then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s communications with employees of Breitbart News, the pro-Trump outlet he led before and after his White House tenure, the White House issued a blanket ethics waiver allowing all senior West Wing appointees to freely communicate with the press.

That move was widely seen as an effort to retroactively cover Bannon for previous meetings that would’ve otherwise run afoul of ethics rules—a move that may itself have constituted a violation of those rules.

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

The news media has been a particular object of those waivers. Early in the administration, after The Daily Beast questioned the propriety of then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s communications with employees of Breitbart News, the pro-Trump outlet he led before and after his White House tenure, the White House issued a blanket ethics waiver allowing all senior West Wing appointees to freely communicate with the press.

That move was widely seen as an effort to retroactively cover Bannon for previous meetings that would’ve otherwise run afoul of ethics rules—a move that may itself have constituted a violation of those rules.

[The Daily Beast]

FBI agent Peter Strzok fired over anti-Trump texts

The FBI has fired agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts.

Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing Friday, even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.

“This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name,” Goelman said, adding in a statement, “This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans.”

The FBI declined to comment.

The termination marks a remarkable downfall for Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the bureau who investigated Russian spies, defense officials accused of selling secrets to China and myriad other important cases. In the twilight of his career, Strzok was integral to two of the bureau’s most high-profile investigations — the Russia case and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

But when a Justice Department inspector-general investigation uncovered politically charged messages that Strzok had exchanged with another FBI official, he was relegated to a position in human resources. Conservatives soon made Strzok the face of their attacks against the special-counsel investigation into the president’s campaign, and the FBI took steps to remove Strzok from its ranks.

Conservatives on Monday hailed the move. President Trump used it to suggest the Russia investigation should be dropped and the Clinton case redone.

“Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI – finally. The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction – I just fight back!” he wrote.

Minutes later, he added, “Just fired Agent Strzok, formerly of the FBI, was in charge of the Crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation. It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone!”

The reaction among Democrats was more understated. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said Strzok’s firing did not undercut Mueller’s probe, which had produced dozens of indictments.

“Sorry, @realDonaldTrump, the #RussiaInvestigation is bigger than one agent (who was at least willing to go under oath).” Swalwell tweeted, citing the president’s Twitter handle.

Bobby Goodlatte, the son of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply embarrassed that Peter Strzok’s career was ruined by my father’s political grandstanding” and pointed to a recent congressional hearing at which Strzok testified.

“Thank you for your service sir,” Bobby Goodlatte wrote. “You are a patriot.”

Bobby Goodlatte recently endorsed the underdog Democrat running for his father’s seat.

Strzok’s team launched a GoFundMe page with a lengthy statement to raise money for his “legal costs and lost income” and said on the site that his firing was “apparently driven by political pressure.” The site had raised more than $40,000 by late Monday afternoon.

Because Strzok was a senior-level FBI employee, and because the FBI’s No. 2 official directed his firing, he has few realistic avenues left to get back his job. It was unclear whether he planned to pursue legal action against the bureau.

Strzok’s position in the bureau had been precarious since last summer, when the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, told special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that the lead agent on his team had been exchanging anti-Trump messages with an FBI lawyer. The next day, Mueller expelled Strzok from the group.

The lawyer, Lisa Page, had also been a part of Mueller’s team, though she left a few weeks earlier and no longer works for the FBI. She and Strzok were having an affair.

Trump has previously derided the pair as “FBI lovers,” and he and his conservative allies have pointed to their conduct in an attempt to discredit the Mueller probe. On Saturday, before the firing was known publicly, Trump tweeted an attack on Strzok, Page, former FBI director James B. Comey and former deputy director Andrew McCabe.

“Will the FBI ever recover it’s once stellar reputation, so badly damaged by Comey, McCabe, Peter S and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, and other top officials now dismissed or fired?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “So many of the great men and women of the FBI have been hurt by these clowns and losers!”

Horowitz concluded that Strzok showed a “willingness to take official action” to hurt Trump’s electoral prospects, particularly in a text he sent telling Page “we’ll stop” Trump from being president.

Strzok, who was a deputy assistant director for counterintelligence at the bureau, has apologized for sending the messages and said they reflected personal views that did not affect his work. His attorney has said that had Strzok wanted to prevent Trump’s election, he could have leaked that Trump’s campaign was under investigation for possibly coordinating with Russia — a revelation that might have upended his bid to become president.

At a congressional hearing last month, Strzok sparred with Republican lawmakers who raised questions about his character and even his marriage. He asserted that there was “no evidence of bias in my professional actions” and that his having to testify was “just another victory notch in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”

Strzok was escorted out of the FBI building in June and effectively relieved of work responsibilities, though he technically remained an FBI employee as he and his attorney challenged the effort to dismiss him. On July 24, they made a final pitch to Candice M. Will, who leads the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Goelman said Will ultimately decided that Strzok should face a demotion and 60-day suspension and be subjected to a “last chance” agreement. That would have put him on thin ice if he were to commit another offense. But Goelman said Bowdich overruled that decision and ordered Strzok’s termination.

During a June congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said that Strzok had been referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility — which he referred to as the bureau’s “independent disciplinary arm” — and that officials would “not hesitate to hold people strictly accountable.” Wray promised that process would be “done by the book.”

Strzok is the third high-ranking FBI official involved in the Clinton and Russia investigations to be fired amid an intensely political backdrop. Trump removed Comey as the bureau’s director and said he did so thinking of the Russia case. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later removed Comey’s deputy, McCabe, after the inspector general alleged he lied about a media disclosure related to Clinton.

McCabe — who, unlike Comey, could not be removed at the will of the president — has said his termination was a politically motivated attempt to undermine the Mueller probe. He is facing a criminal investigation by prosecutors in the District of Columbia’s U.S. attorney’s office. McCabe’s attorney wrote Monday of Strzok’s firing: “Another patriot, public servant, and defender of the FBI fired to appease the WH,” using an abbreviation for White House.

It is possible that others could yet face discipline. The inspector general identified five FBI employees, including Strzok and Page, with some connection to the Clinton email case who had exchanged messages expressing hostility toward Trump, support for Clinton or other political views. Each was referred to the FBI for possible violations of the bureau’s code of conduct.

The inspector general’s office said it found no evidence “to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions” in the Clinton case. Its report singled out Strzok, though, for prioritizing the Russia investigation in October 2016 instead of following up on a Clinton-related lead. Strzok’s attorney has disputed that Strzok failed to pursue the Clinton lead aggressively.

[Washington Post]

Trump Praises Strzok Firing: ‘Crooked Hillary Clinton Sham Investigation’ Should Be ‘Redone’

President Donald Trump celebrated the firing of FBI agent Peter Strzoktoday and took the opportunity to bring up both the “Witch Hunt” and the Clinton email investigation.

In his tweets this afternoon, the President questioned whether the Mueller probe will “be dropped” and even suggested the “sham investigation” into Clinton be redone:

[Mediaite]

Trump Blames ‘Unpopular’ John Kasich for ‘Tamping Down’ Balderson ‘Enthusiasm’

Donald Trump and John Kasich are fighting again, this time over probable Ohio special election winner Troy Balderson, and the President tweeted about it on Monday. Calling Kasich “unpopular,” “failed,” and unpopular again, Trump used the tweet as another red meat pitch to Ohio Trump voters for November.

“Tamping down enthusiasm” isn’t your typical Trump complaint, but otherwise true-to-type as he bashed Kasich’s failure to win in 2016 and referred to a narrow squeaker as a “big win.”

Balderson has essentially won, and declared victor, but the results are not technically official yet. Regardless, the narrowness of the margin is the subject at hand in a criticism from Ohio Gov. Kasich on Meet the Presson Sunday (echoing remarks he made to CBS the day after the election). “It wasn’t a good night,” said Kasich regarding last Tuesday’s vote, “because this is a district that you should be winning by, you know, overwhelming numbers.”

That’s an analysis made by many political observers, but the reason for that razor edge is what really has Trump worked up. Many, including Kasich, blame Trump.

Kasich said it is a “message from the voters” to “stop the chaos” and “stop alienating people.” He also offered broad critiques shared by other Trump-critical Republicans, such as arguing against “protectionism” and Trump’s treatment of NATO allies.

And that is why on Monday the President returned fire in a tweet.

A win for Balderson is only a temporary salve should Kasich be proved correct about the sentiment of the voters; he faces the same Democrat challenger again in the regular election in November. In an effort to hold the House majority, the party and particularly the president certainly must and will make the case that Balderson is what Ohio voters are looking for, repudiation-free.

Kasich, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, has not ruled out a 2020 run and, to anyone who observes Kasich, is in fact practically a lock to put his hat in the ring.

[Mediaite]

Trump encourages boycott against Harley-Davidson

President Donald Trump said it’s “great” that consumers might boycott Harley-Davidson if it moves some motorcycle production overseas.

The President tweeted about the potential boycott on Sunday

“Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great!” Trump wrote. “Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.”

Harley-Davidson did not respond to request for comment on Sunday.

Trump’s remark came after the President hosted “Bikers for Trump” supporters at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, over the weekend.Dozens of bikers descended on the posh club house, where Trump shook hands, posed for selfies and delivered an enemy-bashing speech to a cheering crowd, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Tensions between the administration and Harley-Davidson have brewed for months.

It started when Trump imposed hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports earlier this year in an effort to bolster domestic manufacturing. The European Union responded by pledging to raise tariffs on a list of goods that are imported from the United States, including Harley motorcycles.

American demand for motorcycles has waned while foreign interest has grown. So, that wasn’t good news for the Wisconsin-based bike manufacturer.
Harley said it stands to lose as much as $100 million a year, and the company pledged to shift some of its production abroad so that it could avoid the added tariffs on motorcycles sold in the EU.

Trump accused Harley of using the European retaliatory tariffs as “an excuse” for moving manufacturing abroad. Trump, echoing a top union for Harley workers, claimed the company planned to shift some operations to Thailand before the tariffs were announced.

Harley acknowledged it already had been moving some production abroad, but said moving more production overseas was the “only sustainable option” in the face of a trade war.

The President also said last month his administration was “working with other Motor Cycle companies who want to move into the U.S.”

[CNN]

Trump says he condemns ‘all types of racism’ ahead of Charlottesville anniversary

President Trump on Saturday tweeted that he condemns “all types of racism and acts of violence” ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Trump has been under intense pressure to condemn last year’s violence and speak out against white supremacists organizing an anniversary rally set to take place on Sunday.

“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” he tweeted. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1028271447632957441

The president faced significant criticism over his response to the white supremacist rally last August that left one counter-protestor dead, saying that there was “blame” as well as “very fine people” on “both sides” of the rally. While Trump does not repeat that claim in his Saturday tweet, he also does not assign blame for racism.

The second iteration of the white nationalist gathering is set to take place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Events are also planned in and around Charlottesville, where authorities have declared a state of emergency in preparation.

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Two Virginia state troopers also died as they were responding to the violence when their helicopter crashed.

D.C. officials are already taking security precautions ahead of Sunday’s protest to prevent a repeat of such violence. Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowswer (D) announced Thursday that guns would not be allowed at the rally – even for gun owners with legal permits – and that protesters and counter-protesters would be kept separate.

[The Hill]

Trump threatens ‘to get involved’ in manic conspiracy meltdown over ongoing FBI investigation

Out of nowhere — and possibly as a distraction to some upcoming news — President Donald Trump attacked the FBI on Saturday morning by demanding they turn over files on [Rformer FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to outside conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch.

Once again alleging a conspiracy, Trump tweeted, “Why isn’t the FBI giving Andrew McCabe text massages [sic] to Judicial Watch or appropriate governmental authorities. FBI said they won’t give up even one (I may have to get involved, DO NOT DESTROY). What are they hiding? McCabe wife took big campaign dollars from Hillary people.”

He later added, “Will the FBI ever recover it’s once stellar reputation, so badly damaged by Comey, McCabe, Peter S and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, and other top officials now dismissed or fired? So many of the great men and women of the FBI have been hurt by these clowns and losers!”

You can see screenshots of the original tweets below which were deleted to correct the usual Trump typos:

[Raw Story]

‘She’s a low life’: President Trump attacks Omarosa ahead of scathing tell-all book release

President Donald Trump called his former White House aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a “low life” on Saturday. His comment came in response to a question about Newman’s tell-all book, in which she calls Trump a “racist” suffering from “mental decline.”

Trump made the remark during a bikers rally with motorcycle-riding supporters in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president is vacationing at his golf resort.

After shaking hands with the bikers for five minutes, Trump stood back atop the dais and asked the crowd for their thoughts on the press, according to the White House pool report. The president responded to one question from a reporter in the press pool about Newman and her new book.

“Lowlife,” Trump responded. “She’s a lowlife.”

Here are some of the takeaways from Newman’s memoir, titled “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House”.

  • She now believes the president to whom she was loyal for 14 years is “a racist, a bigot and a misogynist.” His biggest personality flaw is a complete lack of empathy for others, she writes.
  • She believes the president is in “mental decline” and physically unwell.
  • She believes a deeply unhappy first lady Melania Trump “is counting every minute until (her husband) is out of office and she can divorce him.”

[USA Today]

Media

Trump calls Attorney General Jeff Sessions ‘scared stiff and Missing in Action’

President Donald Trump called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “scared stiff and Missing in Action” on Saturday in his latest broadside on Twitter against the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

The attack on the attorney general came as Trump claimed the news media “refuses to report” on meetings held between Christopher Steele, the ex-British intelligence officer who authored an opposition research dossier on Trump, and former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr.

Ohr was demoted from his position in the deputy attorney general’s office after the discovery of certain meetings he held with Steele and the head of the opposition research firm that hired him to compile the dossier, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, CNN reported last year, citing a source familiar with the matter. Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS doing research and analysis on Trump, Simpson has disclosed.

“The big story that the Fake News Media refuses to report is lowlife Christopher Steele’s many meetings with Deputy A.G. Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife, Nelly. It was Fusion GPS that hired Steele to write the phony & discredited Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary & the DNC….,” Trump wrote on Saturday.

[CNN]

DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

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