Trump defends firing ‘terrible’ intel community watchdog as Republicans question sacking

President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire the intelligence community’s top watchdog, calling the sacked official a “total disgrace” over his handling of a whistleblower complaint that led to the president’s impeachment.

“I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible,” Trump said of Michael Atkinson, who was let go from his role as the inspector general of the intelligence community on Fridaynight.

“He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress,” Trump added. The initial report was largely corroborated by witnesses testimony and the summary describing Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine, which was the subject of the whistleblower complaint.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump mused about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) being the whistleblower’s “informer,” without citing evidence. Schiff was the public face of the House’s effort to impeach the president.

“They give this whistleblower a status that he doesn’t deserve. He’s a fake whistleblower,” Trump concluded. “And frankly, somebody ought to sue his ass off.”

Trump’s remarks underscore his deep, long-running disdain toward the officials and lawmakers whose actions led to his impeachment in the House over his alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rivals.

Despite Trump’s vehement defense of his decision to terminate Atkinson, some Republican senators expressed uneasiness with the president’s actions and praised Atkinson.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, said the firing of Atkinson “demands an explanation.”

The Iowa Republican, who crafted the nation’s whistleblower protection statutes, did not criticize Trump for firing Atkinson, as several top Democrats did when Trump relieved Atkinson of his duties late Friday night. But he said the Trump administration should explain the move in greater detail.

“[Inspectors general] help drain the swamp, so any removal demands an explanation,” Grassley said in a statement on Saturday. “Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence. More details are needed from the administration.”

Also on Saturday, the office of the director of national intelligence announced that Thomas Monheim, who has served in top legal positions throughout the intelligence community, was named acting inspector general.

In a letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees late Friday, Trump informed lawmakers that he was terminating Atkinson because he no longer had confidence in him.

Atkinson drew strong criticism from Trump’s allies after he provided Congress with the whistleblower complaint that detailed Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, among other actions by White House and State Department officials.

POLITICO reported on Saturday that Atkinson sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month in which he said the past six months were “a searing time for whistleblowers,” and he criticized those who have failed to defend whistleblowers — without mentioning the president.

“Those repeated assurances of support for whistleblowers in ordinary matters are rendered meaningless if whistleblowers actually come forward in good faith with information concerning an extraordinary matter and are allowed to be vilified, threatened, publicly ridiculed, or — perhaps even worse — utterly abandoned by fair weather whistleblower champions,” Atkinson wrote in the letter to Schumer.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) praised Atkinson on Saturday for his “professionalism and responsiveness,” but did not mention the circumstances of Atkinson’s firing.

“Like any political appointee, the Inspector General serves at the behest of the Executive,” Burr said. “However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who often criticizes Trump’s conduct, said Atkinson’s removal was “not warranted” and that Trump’s explanation was not “persuasive.”

“While I recognize that the president has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted,” Collins said in a statement.

Top Democrats strongly condemned the move, dubbing it an abuse of power and an act of politically motivated retaliation. Michael Horowitz, who chairs the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, lauded Atkinson for his “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law.”

“That includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done ‘by the book’ and consistent with the law,” Horowitz added.

A congressional source said that while the House and Senate intelligence committees were given the 30-day notice of Atkinson’s removal as required by law, he was immediately placed on administrative leave, meaning that his tenure effectively ended Friday night.

[Politico]

Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who told Congress about whistleblower complaint that led to impeachment

President Donald Trump on Friday fired Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who had told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment, the President told Congress in a letter obtained by CNN.

Atkinson will leave his job in 30 days, Trump told the House and Senate Intelligence committees, and he has been placed on administrative leave effective immediately, according to a congressional source.

Trump did not name a permanent successor.

“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment … it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Trump wrote. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”

The announcement that he’s firing Atkinson late on a Friday night comes as the President is dealing with a worldwide pandemic from the novel coronavirus, which has consumed his presidency since the end of the impeachment trial only two months ago. Trump has faced widespread criticism for the federal government’s response to the outbreak, and has said the impeachment trial “probably did” distract him from responding to the virus’ outbreak during the trial in January and early February.

Atkinson’s firing is the latest case of the Trump administration removing officials who took part in the President’s impeachment. Trump also removed Alexander Vindman, a then-National Security Council official who had testified in the House’s proceedings, along with Vindman’s twin brother, both of whom were reassigned out of the NSC, and fired then-US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Other officials, including then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and her acting successor, Bill Taylor, left the Trump administration after the impeachment proceedings.

Trump also fired former FBI Director James Comey in 2017 while the FBI was investigating the President.

The congressional source said that Atkinson was informed on Friday evening that Trump had fired him. The statute for the intelligence community inspector general requires that both intelligence committees be notified 30 days before the inspector general can be dismissed, so Trump could not immediately remove Atkinson — he could only place him on leave until the 30 days pass.

Top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence committees blasted the move.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in statement that Trump must “immediately cease his attacks on those who sacrifice to keep America safe, particularly during this time of national emergency.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California, who led the House’s impeachment investigation, said the firing was “another blatant attempt by the President to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”

“This retribution against a distinguished public servant for doing his job and informing Congress of an urgent and credible whistleblower complaint is a direct affront to the entire inspector general system,” Schiff said in a statement.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the firing was “all too familiar a pattern in this administration.”
“When you speak truth to power, you should be a hero. But in this administration, when you speak truth to power, all too often, you get fired,” Schumer told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Saturday.

Atkinson — a career, nonpartisan official — came under fire from the President’s allies last year for alerting lawmakers to the then-unknown whistleblower complaint, which Congress later learned was an allegation that Trump had sought dirt on his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden from Ukraine’s President while withholding US security aid from Kiev.
The allegation sparked a House impeachment inquiry that detailed the quid pro quo effort and led to Trump’s impeachment in December on two articles. The Senate acquitted Trump on both charges in February.

One of the former attorneys for the anonymous whistleblower, Andrew Bakaj, told CNN the firing of ICIG Michael Atkinson was not unexpected yet still “disheartening” and “pretty clearly retaliation” for his role in transmitting the initial complaint to Congress.

“I think Atkinson was quite honorable and acted with integrity. The way he handled himself underscored his independence and neutrality. Not all IG’s have historically done that,” said Bakaj, who no longer represents the whistleblower after they hired new legal counsel earlier this year. “In this case you have an individual who got an allegation, did an investigation and came to an independent conclusion. This is truly a loss to the IG community and also a shot across the bow for any future whistleblowers from coming forward.”
Bakaj said Atkinson “had the courage to do what was right” when he shared the whistleblower complaint with Congress despite clashing with his then-boss, then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, over whether it rose to the level of “urgent concern.”

After the whistleblower complaint was shared with Congress, Atkinson testified before the intelligence committees, explaining how he had attempted to corroborate the complaint in order to determine it was credible and should be shared with Congress. Maguire initially pushed back on that recommendation, but the White House ultimately relented and released the complaint.
Bakaj told CNN that Atkinson’s replacement was ultimately expected and, in some ways, serves as a “bookend” for the impeachment saga. “The door is finally closed,” he said, adding that he was alerted that Trump had been planning to fire Atkinson for some time.

Maguire formally resigned from US government service in February after Trump made it clear he would not be nominated for the job full time, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
Other top intelligence officials also have recently left the administration, after Trump picked US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to replace Maguire as acting director of national intelligence. Russ Travers, who was head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was fired last month by Grenell in a move that was seen as a removal of someone not perceived as loyal enough.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine issued statements later Saturday on Atkinson’s removal.
“Like any political appointee, the Inspector General serves at the behest of the Executive. However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure,” said Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It is my hope the next nominee for the role of ICIG will uphold the same important standards laid out by Congress when we created this role.”

Grassley said that “Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence,” adding, “More details are needed from the administration.”

“The intelligence community inspector general is particularly essential to ensuring the nation’s secrets are well protected and powerful, highly invasive surveillance authorities are not abused. Going forward the ICIG must step up its focus on investigating those abuses and preventing leaks of classified information,” he said.

Collins noted that Trump followed established procedure by notifying Congress 30 days prior to the removal of the inspector general along with the reasons for the removal in line with The Inspector General Reform Act. But she added that she “did not find his rationale for removing Inspector General Atkinson to be persuasive.”

“While I recognize that the President has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted,” Collins said.

Tom Monheim, a career intelligence official, will be the acting intelligence community inspector general, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

[CNN]

Trump’s visit to the CDC shows why there’s concern about his coronavirus response

President Donald Trump visited the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday amid his administration’s push to control the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus first observed in China. But in a press conference during that visit, Trump did little to help Americans understand the government’s response to the virus, instead spreading misinformation while using the public health crisis for self-aggrandizement.

The president spent much of the press conference working to convince the public his administration has the coronavirus under control, something that does not appear to be the case.

For instance, while it is unclear how many people have been infected by the virus due to a delay in testing, it has become increasingly clear in recent days that there are Americans infected with the virus across the country. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States has more than doubled in the past week, and as CNN’s Ryan Struyk reported, at least seven states — Minnesota, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kentucky, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Utah — reported their first Covid-19 cases following Trump’s CDC visit.

Yet during the press conference, Trump dismissed any criticism against the government’s handling of the virus, stressing in particular the availability of Covid-19 tests.

“As of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test [can have one], that’s the important thing, and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect,” Trump said, seemingly referring to the White House transcript of his call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in which he requests an investigation into his political rivals.

That call was, of course, not perfect, and helped lead to the president’s impeachment — and the tests have not been perfect either.

There have been three main problems with the US government’s coronavirus tests: the first batch, distributed in February, is believed to have had a faulty reagent leading to inconclusive results; once that issue was corrected, there was not enough CDC capacity to test the kits that had been sent out (leading the center to open up testing to state-level facilities), and there aren’t currently enough tests to go around.

Several states have been pushing the CDC for more Covid-19 test kits, and have criticized the government for its slow response in making more tests available. New York, where there are more than 70 confirmed cases, cannot meet the demand for testing because it doesn’t have enough tests, according to Raul Perea-Henze, the New York City deputy mayor for health and human services.

“With multiple positive cases, NYC needs maximum testing capacity to enable successful implementation of the public health strategies that best protect New Yorkers,” Perea-Henze wrote in a letter Friday, requesting more testing kits. “The slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic.”

California simultaneously does not have enough kits to test all those at risk of having been infected, and does not have the lab capacity to process all of the tests it has already run. Lab technicians have been working 18-hour shifts in order to try to work through a testing backlog, but have been unable to do so. In Los Angeles County, commercial laboratories will begin processing tests on Monday, which is expected to help alleviate this issue.

But not all states have the resources California and New York do — while they were able to send tests to state-run labs after the CDC began allowing them to do so, some states, including Maine, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, do not currently have the capacity for in-state testing.

The government has tried to respond to mounting criticism about the shortage of testing kits. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised to increase supply, saying 1.5 million tests would be made available. So far, however, the actual number of tests being administered fails to live up to that promise — as of Friday, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the CDC had distributed enough tests for 75,000 people, and partnered with a private firm to distribute material for 700,000 additional tests.

Trump’s CDC presser confirms everything people were worried about if Covid-19 hit the US

Even before the recent uptick in US-based Covid-19 cases, critics of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response argued the administration was disorganized and ill-equipped to combat Covid-19. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias has written, the president was slow to put someone in charge of the coronavirus response efforts — and when he finally did, he selected Vice President Mike Pence, someone who failed in his responses to public health crises while serving as governor of Indiana, according to experts. And there were also concerns Trump’s efforts to cut CDC funding — and the size of the administration’s initial coronavirus budget — might have limited the government’s ability to fight the virus effectively.

But experts have argued the biggest issue with the administration’s coronavirus response so far is, as former director of the USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance Jeremy Konyndyk told Vox’s Alex Ward, Trump has “made it primarily about himself.”

And this concern was on display at the CDC press conference when Trump took time to talk at length about his own intelligence, in part by referencing a “great, super genius” uncle who taught at MIT.

“I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump said. “People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors say, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should’ve done that instead of running for president.”

Trump’s public response, however, is a reminder of how he has recently put his public health knowledge into question. During a White House meeting on Monday with pharmaceutical executives and public health officials, Trump displayed his ignorance by pushing for a vaccine to be developed in a few months (something he has promised the public will happen) — even though that’s just not how it works.

And he went on to express confusion as to why pharmaceutical companies can’t release the drugs they are currently working on immediately, as Vox’s Aaron Rupar reported:

Trump pressed the pharmaceutical leaders on why they can’t just release the coronavirus drugs their companies are working on tomorrow — in the process revealing that he doesn’t understand the concept of clinical trials.

“So you have a medicine that’s already involved with the coronaviruses, and now you have to see if it’s specifically for this. You can know that tomorrow, can’t you?” he said.

“Now the critical thing is to do clinical trials,” explained Daniel O’Day, CEO of Gilead Sciences, which has two phase-three clinical trials going for remdesivir, a potential treatment for the coronavirus. “We have two clinical trials going on in China that were started several weeks ago … we expect to get that information in April.”

Hours after learning about how vaccines work and the timeline for a potential coronavirus vaccine, Trump told supporters at a rally: “We had a great meeting today with a lot of the great companies, and they’re going to have vaccines I think relatively soon. And they’re going to have something that makes you better, and that’s going to actually take place we think even sooner.”

It isn’t clear why Trump said this, particularly after seemingly having been disabused of his misconceptions in his White House meeting, but such a statement does not support his claim at the CDC that “I understand that whole [scientific] world.”

Nor did the president’s CDC visit allay concerns about a lack of coordination between officials. If anything, it added confusion to an already tumultuous — and potentially dangerous — situation.

For example, the Trump administration has been offering a variety of answers to the question of whether the country is experiencing a shortage of test kits (it is). On Thursday, Pence said, “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” according to The Hill.

Trump, however, had a completely different message as he boasted of the US’s testing capabilities in Atlanta on Friday, saying, “Anybody who needs a test gets a test. … They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.”

This left Pence with the difficult task Friday of attempting to bring his factually correct messaging in line with the president’s incorrect statements.

“I think for any American that’s symptomatic, speaking to your doctor, if you have reason to believe that you have been exposed to the coronavirus, I have every confidence that your physician would contact state health officials and have access to the state lab,” Pence said at a White House briefing. And this, unlike Trump’s statement, is closer to the truth — the CDC revised its testing guidelines on Wednesday, allowing primary physicians to conduct testing in concert with local authorities. Whether local labs have the ability to process those tests, or if those tests are even available, however, remains a matter of concern.

Although we’ve grown used to the Trump administration’s frequent inconsistency in messaging, it becomes dangerous in times like this, when transparent communication is key in helping contain a disease and keep trust in the government strong. And Trump’s tendency to self-aggrandize is not helpful in a moment that calls for collaboration and creating an apolitical environment.

Trump continues to politicize the Covid-19 outbreak

In fact, perhaps the most concerning aspect of the CDC conference was how it gave us a glimpse into Trump’s view of the coronavirus as a political rather than health-based issue.

During his remarks, Trump said he would rather have the passengers of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship docked in San Francisco with 21 confirmed cases onboard, stay on the ship than move to land — all because doing so would raise the number of total Covid-19 cases in the US.

“I would rather because I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, okay? It wasn’t their fault either and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Trump’s comment suggests a grim reality: that keeping the number of Covid-19 cases low is more important to him than the actual people who have the disease — all because he wants to avoid the political fallout of a growing case count.

And that wasn’t the only political moment during the conference — he also took time out to praise Fox News for its ratings, attack CNN as “fake news,” and smear Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee — who was praised by Pence for his work in fighting the spread of Covid-19 — as a “snake” who wants to “take advantage” of the administration’s kindness.

These sort of attacks undercut the seriousness of the situation — and they also draw attention toward Trump and away from the coronavirus itself. And they come at a time when the virus needs more attention than ever.

[Vox]

Media

Trump swipes at ‘little wise guy’ Brad Pitt, Korean film ‘Parasite’ during rally

President Trump took aim at the winners of the Academy Awards at a rally in Colorado Thursday night, singling out newly-minted best supporting actor winner Brad Pitt and best picture winner “Parasite.”

Trump blasted the Academy for giving its top honor to Bong Joon-Ho’s dark comedy about conflict between two families of different economic status, saying “The winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea, with trade. And after all that they give them best movie of the year?”

The movie was the first winner in a language other than English.

Trump also castigated Brad Pitt, who won for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood,” by taking a shot at the actor’s victory speech.

“And then you have Brad Pitt. I was never a big fan of his. He got up and said a little wise guy statement. Little wise guy. He’s a little wise guy,” the president said.

In his acceptance speech, Pitt, a longtime supporter of liberal causes, said the time he had been given to speak was “more than the Senate gave John Bolton,” in reference to the former White House National Security adviser who offered to testify in the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed.

“I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it and in the end the adults do the right thing,” Pitt added.

The president then went on to ask “Can we get ‘Gone with the Wind’ back?” The Civil War epic won the 1939 award for Best Picture in 1940.

Trump has criticized the Academy Awards telecast for several years, dating back to before his candidacy for president. As president, he has frequently blamed ratings declines for the ceremony on actors’ attacks on him.

[The Hill]

Trump contradicts past denials, admits sending Giuliani to Ukraine

Emboldened after his impeachment acquittal, President Donald Trump now openly admits to sending his attorney Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to find damaging information about his political opponents, even though he strongly denied it during the impeachment inquiry.

The reversal came Thursday in a podcast interview Trump did with journalist Geraldo Rivera, who asked, “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?” Trump responded, “No, not at all,” and praised Giuliani’s role as a “crime fighter.”

“Here’s my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy,” Trump said, referring to former FBI Director James Comey. Trump explained that he has “a very bad taste” of the US intelligence community, because of the Russia investigation, so he turned to Giuliani.

“So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors, and the best mayor,” Trump said. “But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know, was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers.”

Trump had previously denied that he sent Giuliani to Ukraine. Asked in November if he directed Giuliani to “do anything” in Ukraine, Trump said, “No, I didn’t direct him,” but went on to call Giuliani a “great corruption fighter.” Giuliani says he’s exposing legitimate corruption in Ukraine, even though his claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden have been widely debunked.

In the new interview, Trump defended the decision to “use” Giuliani, even though US diplomats previously testified that Giuliani had undermined long-standing US policy toward Ukraine.

Giuliani was a central player in the scandal that got Trump impeached, though the President was acquitted by the Senate last week. Multiple witnesses described how Giuliani met with former Ukrainian officials in search of dirt against Joe and Hunter Biden. Other key players described how Giuliani and his allies pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens.

Trump’s past denials came in November, when the House of Representatives was investigating the President’s conduct with Ukraine. Multiple US diplomats and national security officials testified that Giuliani was a central figure in the pressure campaign to secure political favors from Ukraine. Trump also mentioned Giuliani in his phone call last summer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In the week since his acquittal, Trump has taken a series of bold steps to punish his opponents and reward his supporters. He fired several US officials who had testified against him in the impeachment inquiry, and he successfully lobbied the Justice Department to water down its request that his longtime adviser Roger Stone face as many as nine years in prison for lying to Congress.

[CNN]

Trump assails Rep. Dingell, citing her late husband, amid wave of attacks on Dems

President Donald Trump on Saturday launched a vitriolic attack on his perceived enemies, including the widow of a prominent Democratic congressman, days after he was acquitted in his impeachment trial.

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon to heap scorn on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), the widow of the late Rep. John Dingell, among others.

“@RepDebDingell, who called me, tears flowing, to thank me for rolling out the maximum ‘Red Carpet’ for the funeral of her husband, then voted against me on the partisan Impeachmen Hoax, said ‘everybody (Dems) wants to get out of town. This has been, in my whole career, one of… …the worst weeks ever.’ She could have had a much better week if Crazy Nancy, who is the most overrated person in politics (going to lose the House a second time), didn’t bring the phony & corrupt Impeachment Hoax,” Trump tweeted.

The tweets came at the end of a week that saw Trump acquitted Wednesday, a rambling post-impeachment White House address Thursday that mocked Democratic lawmakers and opponents, and the ousting of two impeachment witnesses Friday.

Trump has attacked Dingell before over her role in the impeachment inquiry, saying to supporters at a Michigan rally in December that her late husband, the longest-ever serving congressman when he died in February 2019, was “looking up” from hell.

Those comments drew condemnation from lawmakers, including from Republicans like Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) who called on Trump to apologize.

The president on Saturday continued lacing into Pelosi, who told Democrats she felt “liberated” after ripping up a paper copy of Trump’s Tuesday State of the Union speech on national television, which became one of the most talked about moments of the event.

“Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s Impeachment Hoax has lifted Republican Congressional Polls (she lost the House once before!), and my Polls, WAY UP, which was expected,” he tweeted, without citing examples.

He also attacked Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the NSC official who testified about the president’s actions on Ukraine, drawing a furious response from Vindman’s lawyers, who called Trump’s attacks a “campaign of intimidation.”

Later Saturday, Trump also assailed Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) for their votes to convict him, in an echo of attacks he’d leveled against the senators on Friday.

Manchin responded in kind, tweeting: “I’ve read the transcripts thoroughly & listened to the witnesses under oath. Where I come from a person accused defends themselves with witnesses and evidence.”

Trump’s tweeting — totaling more than 40 tweets or retweets sent Saturday — didn’t end there.

The president also retweeted a photograph of himself that showed a darkened layer of makeup on his face as he walked across the White House lawn, which had gone viral online. While the original photograph was in color, Trump tweeted a black and white version of it.

“More Fake News. This was photoshopped, obviously, but the wind was strong and the hair looks good?” Trump said. “Anything to demean!”

[Politico]

Trump Is Purging People Who Testified Against Him During the Impeachment Hearing

Two prominent witnesses in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump were recalled from their positions on Friday evening in what appeared to be a retaliatory purge after the president’s acquittal this week.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, was removed from his post at the White House this afternoon—along with his twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, a lieutenant colonel in the Army. Just a couple hours later, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, said he had been told he would be recalled.

Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, said that Vindman and his brother, who is a lawyer for the NSC, were escorted out of the White House after they received the news on Friday. Vindman had already said that he planned to leave his post months ahead of schedule. The two will now be reassigned to positions at the Pentagon.

During the House impeachment inquiry, Vindman had emphasized that he was apolitical and motivated by nothing but loyalty to public service when he testified against Trump. In that testimony, he said that Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens was “inappropriate” because of “significant national security implications.”

In a statement Friday night, Sondland said that he “was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union.” During his appearance in the impeachment inquiry, Sondland said explicitly that there had been a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s discussions with Zelensky. Sondland, unlike Vindman, was a Trump appointee with a background in business, rather than government. He was put in his position after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.

Pressman, the lawyer for Vindman, said in a statement that there was no doubt about the White House’s motive. “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over,” he said. “LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth.”

He added that because of Vindman’s commitment to telling the truth, “the most powerful man in the world” had “decided to exact revenge.”

Earlier Friday, Trump was asked what his press secretary meant when she said the president’s opponents should be “held accountable.” Trump responded, “Well, you’ll see.” When asked if he would have Vindman removed, Trump indicated that his actions were driven by spite. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” he told reporters. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” The previous day, Trump had mentioned Vindman and Vindman’s twin brother in a speech boasting about his acquittal in the impeachment trial.

Democrats spoke out against the president upon hearing the news on Friday.

After news of Sondland’s firing, the president’s son appeared to confirm the critics’ interpretation of Trump’s actions. “Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff,” he tweeted. “Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!”

[Slate]

Trump claims Pelosi ripping speech was ‘illegal’

President Trump claimed Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) committed a crime by ripping up a copy of his speech at the State of the Union on Tuesday evening, a claim that was immediately disputed as false by legal experts. “I thought it was a terrible thing,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing for a speech in North Carolina. “It’s illegal what she did. She broke the law.” Trump asserted that Pelosi was barred from ripping up the speech because it is an official document, later calling it “very illegal.”

Glenn Kirschner, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, disputed Trump’s claim, telling The Hill that a photocopy of a speech is not an official record.

“The federal law prohibiting the destruction of public records or government documents does not apply,” Kirschner said in a text message.

“No prosecutor with half an ounce of common sense would ever charge this case,” said Elie Honig, another legal analyst. “The law isn’t meant to criminalize destruction of copies of ceremonial documents.”

Trump on Friday also described Pelosi’s action as “very disrespectful to the chamber, to the country.”

Pelosi has said she tore up the speech in order to protest the “falsehoods” contained in the president’s State of the Union address and that she felt “very vindicated” by doing so.

The president’s remarks on Friday were his first public reaction to Pelosi’s ripping of his speech at the conclusion of his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

The president told reporters Friday that he didn’t know Pelosi ripped the copy of his speech until members of Congress remarked about it as he left the chamber.

White House aides have repeatedly criticized Pelosi for the move in recent days, though none have suggested her actions were illegal. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Wednesday that she believed Pelosi should be censured.

“I think it shows you how petty and peevish and partisan the Democratic Party has come,” Conway said on Fox News. “And for all the people out there who fancy themselves the armchair psychiatrist trying to analyze certain people, they ought to shift their craft over to Nancy Pelosi.”

Trump has regularly attacked Pelosi over his impeachment by House, but their relationship plummeted to a new low this week following the State of the Union and the president’s acquittal in the impeachment trial by the GOP-controlled Senate.

When Trump entered the House chamber before his remarks, Trump also appeared to snub Pelosi, not taking her hand as she reached out to shake his as is customary at the beginning of the president’s joint address to Congress.

During two separate appearances on Thursday — including one at the National Prayer Breakfast when the House Speaker was sitting just feet away — Trump took a shot at Pelosi for invoking religion during his impeachment.

“Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago,” Trump said during remarks from the East Room Thursday afternoon, disputing Pelosi’s claim that she prays for him. “She may pray, but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all.”

[The Hill]

Reality

The assertion is rich given Trump’s well-documented penchant for ripping papers into tiny pieces after he’s done reading them. Politico reported in 2018 that White House aides could not convince the President to break his paper-ripping habit, so it became the job of career staffers in the records management office to tape official documents he’s torn into bits back together.

This all came from a tweet from conservative bullshit artist Charlie Kirk.

According to a fact check from the Tampa Bay Times:

The statute in question deals with the “concealment, removal, or mutilation generally” of records and reports. It sets a penalty for anyone who “conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys” any government record “filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States.”

The statute also says that any person with “custody” of a government record cannot “willfully and unlawfully” conceal, remove, mutilate, obliterate, falsify or destroy it.

“The point of the statute is to prevent people from destroying records in official repositories like the National Archives or in courts,” said Georgetown Law professor Victoria Nourse.

Pelosi is in the clear, experts said, because her copy of Trump’s speech wasn’t a government record.

Media

Trump slams Democrats and Romney at prayer breakfast

President Donald Trump began his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast by taking veiled shots at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was on the stage with him as he spoke, and Sen. Mitt Romneythe morning after the GOP-controlled Senate acquitted him.Romney, citing his Mormon faith, was the only Republican to vote against his party and join Democrats in voting to convict Trump.Beginning his speech at the bipartisan annual event, Trump criticized “dishonest and corrupt people” who “badly hurt our nation” — an apparent reference to Democrats who pursued his impeachment over what they claimed was an abuse of power in holding up aid in Ukraine.

The President thanked “courageous Republican politicians and leaders (who) had the wisdom, fortitude and strength to do what everyone knows was right.”

He then obliquely referenced Romney and Pelosi.”I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so. So many people have been hurt and we can’t let that go on,” Trump said.”We have allies, we have enemies, sometimes the allies are enemies but we just don’t know it. But we’re changing all that,” Trump later remarked.Pelosi has previously said she prays for the President daily and Romney brought up his faith in a speech announcing his vote on impeachment. Later Thursday after the breakfast, Pelosi called Trump’s remark about faith as justification for doing something wrong “completely inappropriate” and “particularly without class.””This morning the President said when people use faith as an excuse to do … bad things … was just so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.”I don’t know what the President understands about prayer or people who do pray, but we do pray for the United States of America,” she said. “I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of the Constitution, our values, our country.””He really needs our prayers, so he can say whatever he wants … but I do pray for him and I do so sincerely and without anguish,” Pelosi added.Trump walked into the annual, bipartisan breakfast and immediately picked up the newspaper laid on his place setting, a hard copy of USA Today, with the headline “ACQUITTED.” He displayed the headline to the room and to the cameras, to laughter from the audience.Pelosi, at the news conference, said that the President’s talking points were outside of religiously oriented issues was also inappropriate at the breakfast.”To go into the stock market and raising up (the newspaper) and mischaracterizing other peoples’ motivation, he’s talking about things he knows little about — faith and prayer,” she said.The President’s arrival at the breakfast was soon followed by a prayer to the breakfast group by Pelosi. Pelosi prayed for the poor and the persecuted around the world. The House speaker did not bring up politics or impeachment.”Let us pray that the names of the persecuted always live on our lips and their courage carried through our actions. And let us pray that we honor the spark and divinity in them and in all people including ourselves and that we treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Pelosi said.Prefacing Trump’s speech, Dr. Arthur Brooks, discussed the “crisis of contempt and polarization that’s tearing our societies apart.”He called for those at the breakfast to do what was preached in the Bible: “Love your enemies.”Brooks spoke at length about how politicians from differing parties need to treat each other with love.”Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump told the audience after approaching the dais. “I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to have to say.”

[CNN]

Trump immediately refuted the Republican idea he was chastened by impeachment

Minutes after the Senate vote to acquit him on Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump posted a tweet undercutting the belief a number of Republican senators expressed in recent days that getting impeached might prompt him to tone it down a little.

Trump posted a video with an edited animation of a Time magazine cover teasing that he, or at the very least someone with the same last name, will be running for president in 2020, 2024, 2028, and beyond. It ends with Trump standing being an election placard reading, “TRUMP 4EVA.”

Trump regularly jokes about serving more than two terms in office. Coming from someone who’s supposedly the leader of the free world, Trump’s quips along these lines are never in good taste. But alluding to them in the immediate aftermath of a trial in which a bipartisan group of senators voted for his removal from office is especially brazen.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign’s official Twitter account posted a tweet making a mockery of the entire impeachment proceedings.

None of this is surprising at this stage of the Trump presidency. But it does reveal the absurdity of the talking points used by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lamar Alexander (TN), and Rob Portman(OH), each of whom indicated in recent days they believe Trump learned a lesson from getting impeached and will behave better going forward.

That talking point was self-evidently absurd for anyone operating with a basic understanding of the timeline that culminated in Trump’s impeachment. The call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump implicitly linked the release of military aid to Ukraine helping with investigations into his political foes took place on July 25 — just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller wound down his investigation of the president by testifying to Congress and saying Trump could be indicted after his term for obstructing justice because of his interference with the Russia investigation.

So instead of responding to the end of the Russia investigation by cooling his jets, Trump was on the phone with the Ukrainian president the very next day trying to solicit political favors — the very same conduct that fueled suspicions about his Russia dealings in the first place. With Republican senators now having voted to let him off the hook for that conduct, there’s no reason to think he won’t try and do it again.

Trump is who he is. Republican senators who justified impeaching him partly because they thought he’d be chastened by the experience were either fooling themselves or the American people. Trump’s initial response to being impeached made that perfectly clear.

[Vox]

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