Pence calls on Mueller to wrap up’ Russia probe

US Vice-President Mike Pence has urged special counsel Robert Mueller to “wrap up” his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

He said the White House has “fully co-operated” with the probe, which is looking at whether US President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.

Mr Trump and the Kremlin have repeatedly denied the allegations.

His remarks came as he and Mr Trump greeted three Americans returning from North Korea after being held there.

“In the interests of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up,” he told NBC News early on Thursday morning at Joint Base Andrews.

The vice-president added the administration had provided more than a million documents to Mr Mueller’s investigation team.

“And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.”

Mr Pence dismissed reports about Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, receiving millions of dollars in payments from companies as a “private matter” and “something I don’t have any knowledge about”.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Mr Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants LLC, last year received half a million dollars from Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment company affiliated with a firm controlled by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

It was one of several businesses – including major corporations like AT&T – which paid a shell company set up by Mr Cohen after the 2016 election.

Following the vice-president’s comments, top Democrat Adam Schiff tweeted that Mr Pence “has now brought his sycophancy to a whole new level”.

Mr Schiff’s tweet centers around lingering concerns over Michael Flynn, the former US national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia last December.

Mr Trump sacked Mr Flynn last February, saying he had lied to Mr Pence about meeting the Russian envoy to the US.

Per a list of questions leaked to US media, it appeared that special counsel Robert Mueller will look into Mr Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and what exactly the president knew about the situation.

[BBC]

Pence’s doctor resigns after reports of concerns about Jackson’s conduct

The White House physician assigned to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Pena, has resigned, his office told CNN in a statement Friday. Pena worked in the White House Medical Unit.

“The vice president’s office was informed today by the White House Medical Unit of the resignation. Physicians assigned to the vice president report to the White House Medical Unit and thus any resignation would go entirely through the Medical Unit, not the vice president’s office,” Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, said in a statement to CNN.

This comes after CNN reported Tuesday that Pence’s doctor privately raised alarms within the White House last fall that President Donald Trump’s doctor Ronny Jackson may have violated federal privacy protections for a key patient — Pence’s wife, Karen — and intimidated the vice president’s doctor during angry confrontations over the episode.

A White House official later told CNN they felt Pence’s doctor had misrepresented the extent of Jackson’s actions.

Trump nominated Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, but Jackson withdrew his nomination last week amid burgeoning allegations of professional misconduct.

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” Jackson said in a statement. “If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”

Though he returned to the White House Medical Unit, Jackson is no longer Trump’s attending physician.

According to copies of internal documents obtained by CNN, Pence’s doctor accused Jackson of overstepping his authority and inappropriately intervening in a medical situation involving the second lady as well as potentially violating federal privacy rights by briefing White House staff and disclosing details to other medical providers — but not appropriately consulting with the vice president’s physician.

The vice president’s physician later wrote in a memo of feeling intimidated by an irate Jackson during a confrontation over the physician’s concerns. The physician informed White House officials of being treated unprofessionally, describing a pattern of behavior from Jackson that made the physician “uncomfortable” and even consider resigning from the position.

Farah, press secretary for the vice president, said Pence’s physician “brought the issue to Mr. Ayers, who appropriately referred the matter to the proper channels.”

Current and former coworkers accused Jackson of abusive behavior and professional misconduct in interviews with Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which sources briefed on the matter say has investigated those episodes as well as the one involving Karen Pence. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering Jackson’s promotion in the Navy to become a two-star admiral, is aware of the incidents, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Jackson and the vice president’s physician have long had a “strained relationship,” according to a former White House medical official.

[CNN]

With Vice President Pence breaking tie, Senate passes anti-Planned Parenthood bill

Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking Senate vote Thursday to pass legislation that will allow states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions.

The measure, which now goes to President Trump for his signature, dismisses an Obama-era rule banning states from denying federal funds to such organizations.

Pence’s vote was needed to break a 50-50 tie. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke with their party, voting against the measure.

Republicans have said the Obama rule should be overturned to allow states the right to steer funds away from abortion providers, if they choose.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said the measure reverses a rule that “attempted to empower federal bureaucrats in Washington and silence our states.”

Democrats condemned the measure throughout the day, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York calling it “another example of the Republican war on women.”

“It would let states treat women as second-class citizens who don’t deserve the same access to health care as men,” he said.

The House in February had voted 230-188 largely along party lines to reject the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn recently enacted regulations.

The rule prohibits states from withholding family-planning funding from providers for reasons other than their ability to offer family-planning services. It took effect Jan. 18, two days before President Obama left office.

Since 2011, 13 states have restricted access to such grants, disrupting or reducing services in several instances.

[USA Today]

Trump Reportedly Growing Suspicious of UN Amb Nikki Haley’s Ambitions, Possibly For His Job

President Trump may have a bone to pick with yet another member of his administration: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

A new report from The New York Times alleges that the president “grew angry” at Haley’s Sunday show appearances, specifically when she stated that the U.S. would be placing fresh new sanctions against Russia. However, he supposedly is questioning her “political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.”

Since the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Haley has become the face of foreign policy, especially since the chemical attack that took place in Syria. However, the White House has been keeping her out of the loop, which led to the public dustup between her and WH economic advisor Larry Kudlow.

But according to administration officials and insiders, he has “grown exasperated by her outspokenness” about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Who wrote that for her?” Mr. Trump reported yelled at his television during a Sunday show appearance. “Who wrote that for her?”

Per the NYT:

Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.

Aides to both scoff at such suggestions, but the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election. The talk was exacerbated in recent days when Mr. Pence named Jon Lerner, Ms. Haley’s deputy, as his new national security adviser, while allowing him to keep his job at the United Nations.

[Mediaite]

Trump sought to block Pence pick for key national security post

Donald Trump reportedly tried to prevent Vice President Pence from appointing his chosen national security adviser, citing the staffer’s past opposition to Trump’s candidacy.

Axios reported Sunday that Trump was upset when he learned Pence was hiring Jon Lerner to advise him on national security and foreign policy. Lerner currently serves as a deputy for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The Washington Post reported last Thursday that Pence hired Lerner, and that Lerner would continue to work with Haley despite his new role advising the vice president.

Prior to joining Haley’s team in the Trump administration, Lerner advised the super PAC supporting Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.

He also worked as a pollster with the Club for Growth, a conservative group that ran anti-Trump ads during the 2016 campaign and has at times been critical of the president’s policies.

His past roles bothered Trump, Axios reported, citing three sources. He questioned why Pence would hire Lerner, and told chief of staff John Kellyto block the move.

The White House reportedly learned of the hire as Pence was traveling to Peru for the Summit of the Americas. After the vice president landed, he spoke to Trump and reassured him of Lerner’s qualifications, Axios reported.

Pence is in South America for the gathering of leaders of the Western Hemisphere after Trump announced last week he would no longer attend. The White House said Trump would remain in the U.S. to coordinate a response to the recent suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Pence’s addition of Lerner to his national security team comes as Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, reshapes his team as well.

[The Hill]

Sarah Sanders Called Out For Tweeting Misleading Photo Celebrating Syria Strike

On Saturday evening, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a photo of the Situation Room, stating that the president had put “our adversaries on notice” the previous night. The implication of the photo was that Trump and his staff were reacting to Friday night’s military strike on Syria.

Only one problem with the tweet — Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t in Washington on Friday evening. The photo shows Pence at the table thus highlighting that it was taken earlier in the week as the vice president was in Peru on Friday.

[Mediaite]

Pence casts tie-breaking vote to make it more difficult for consumers to sue banks and credit card companies

The Senate has voted to nullify a consumer-oriented rule that would let millions of Americans band together to sue their banks or credit card companies.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote Tuesday night to stop the rule from going into effect – the fifth instance he has broken a 50-50 tie since taking office.

Many consumers must go through an arbitrator to resolve financial disputes, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized a rule that bans most types of mandatory arbitration clauses.

The rule exposed banks to large class-action lawsuits. Supporters say that possibility would help ensure banks, credit card companies and other lenders treat consumers appropriately.

The vote comes months after House action and reflects the effort of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to undo regulations that the GOP argues harm the free market.

Democrats said before the vote that nullifying the rule would be a victory for Wall Street.

The resolution will now go to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

[Business Insider]

 

Trump says Pence’s trip to NFL game was ‘long planned’

President Donald Trump on Monday morning doubled down on Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Indianapolis Colts game Sunday, saying it was “long planned.”

“The trip by @VP Pence was long planned. He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country!” the president wrote on Twitter.

Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game on Sunday after several players on the opposing San Francisco 49ers team kneeled in protest during the national anthem.

“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence wrote on Twitter on his official @VP account following his departure.

Trump also praised Pence’s decision to leave in a tweet Sunday, adding that if any players kneeled, he had asked Pence to leave the stadium.

The tweets, along with Pence’s subsequent trip to Los Angeles, have prompted some to speculate that the vice president’s departure was a pre-planned stunt.

Pence’s office put out a statement Sunday night, responding to critics: “The Vice President was not going to miss the Las Vegas memorial prayer walk on Saturday, which he was honored to attend on behalf of President Trump. If the Vice President did not go to Indiana for the Colts game, he would have flown back to D.C. for the evening – which means flying directly over Indiana. Instead, he made a shorter trip to Indiana for a game that was on his schedule for several weeks.”

The 49ers are the former team of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 started the protest of kneeling during the anthem as a way to bring attention to police mistreatment of African-Americans.

[Politico]

Reality

Vice President Mike Pence was shocked… shocked… that 49er players, who have protested racial injustice during the National Anthem for over a year now, protested the National Anthem. While the anthem was still playing, Pence performed a protest of his own and left the stadium, showing by his own standards a disrespect for soldiers, the Flag, and anthem.

Just last week both Trump and Pence were critical of NFL players, who were also protesting Trump calling Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” and demanding free speech be stifled, for injecting politics into sports… but now Trump and Pence are injecting politics into sports?

And Trump admitted in a tweet that this was planned for a long time, proving it was nothing more than an expensive PR stunt and that Trump is more interested in running a reality show than a country.

Pence’s chief of staff suggested wealthy donors ‘purge’ anti-Trump Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence‘s chief of staff Nick Ayers on Tuesday encouraged wealthy Republican donors to “purge” GOP lawmakers who haven’t supported President Trump’s agenda by finding and supporting their primary challengers.

According to a new report by Politico, Ayers made the comments to donors during a closed-door Republican National Committee (RNC) event in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Ayers told the donors to hold anti-Trump Republicans’ feet to the fire, saying they must get items of Trump’s agenda complete or face primary challengers in 2018.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers said, according to Politco. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, number one. And number two, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass,” Ayers continued, “we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him… Because, look, if we’re going to be in the minority again we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

Ayers, a longtime adviser to Pence, was appointed his chief of staff in June. The Georgia native was Pence’s chief political strategist during his time as governor of Indiana, and the two have a close friendship.

“During my years as governor, then as a candidate and serving as vice president, I have come to appreciate Nick’s friendship, keen intellect and integrity and I couldn’t be more excited to have him come to the White House as my chief of staff,” Pence said in July upon Ayers’ appointment to the White House.

[The Hill]

Pence Used Personal Email for State Business — and Was Hacked

Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues.

Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.

Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence’s are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer.

Furthermore, advocates for open government expressed concerns about transparency because personal emails aren’t immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.

Pence’s office in Washington said in a written statement Thursday: “Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office released 29 pages of emails from Pence’s AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of others because the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public.

That’s of particular concern to Justin Cappos, a computer security professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. “It’s one thing to have an AOL account and use it to send birthday cards to grandkids,” he said. “But it’s another thing to use it to send and receive messages that are sensitive and could negatively impact people if that information is public.”

Indiana law does not prohibit public officials from using personal email accounts, although the law is generally interpreted to mean that official business conducted on private email must be retained for public record purposes.

Pence’s office said his campaign hired outside counsel as he was departing as governor to review his AOL emails and transfer any involving public business to the state.

Concerns also surrounded Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and email account during her tenure as secretary of state. Pence as governor would not have dealt with national security issues as sensitive or as broad as those handled by Clinton in her position or with classified matters.

Pence fiercely criticized Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, accusing her of trying to keep her emails out of public reach and exposing classified information to potential hackers.

Pence spokesman Marc Lotter called any comparisons between Pence and Clinton “absurd,” noting that Pence didn’t deal with federally classified information as governor. While Pence used a well-known consumer email provider, Clinton had a private server installed in her home, he said.

Cybersecurity experts say Pence’s emails were likely just as insecure as Clinton’s. While there has been speculation about whether Clinton’s emails were hacked, Pence’s account was actually compromised last summer by a scammer who sent an email to his contacts claiming Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and in urgent need of money.

Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at computer security company WatchGuard Technologies, said the email accounts of Pence and Clinton were probably about equally vulnerable to attacks.

“In this case, you know the email address has been hacked,” he said. “It would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private email server.”

He and other experts say personal accounts such as the one Pence used are typically less secure than government email accounts, which often receive additional layers of monitoring and security, and are linked to servers under government control.

Indiana law requires all records dealing with state business to be retained and available for public information requests. Emails exchanged on state accounts are captured on state servers, which can be searched in response to such requests. But any emails Pence sent from his AOL account to another private account likely would have been hidden from public record searches unless he took steps to make them available.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, who was appointed by Pence in 2013, said he advises state officials to copy or forward their emails involving state business to their government accounts to ensure the record is preserved on state servers.

But there is no indication that Pence took any such steps to preserve his AOL emails until he was leaving the governor’s office.

When public officials fail to retain their private-account emails pertaining to public business, “they’re running the risk of violating the law,” Britt said. “A good steward of those messages and best practice is going to dictate they preserve those.”

All of the emails provided to IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, were ones captured on state servers.

The emails were obtained after a series of public records requests that the Pence administration did not fulfill for nearly four months before Pence left office.

The administration of Pence’s successor, Gov. Eric Holcomb, released 29 pages of emails late this past week. But it withheld others, saying they are deliberative or advisory, confidential under rules adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court or the work product of an attorney.

Holcomb’s office declined to disclose how many emails were withheld.

Cyber-security experts and government transparency advocates said Pence’s use of a personal email account for matters of state business — including confidential ones — is surprising given his attacks on Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September, for example, Pence called Clinton “the most dishonest candidate for president of the United States since Richard Nixon.”

“What’s evident from all of the revelations over the last several weeks is that Hillary Clinton operated in such a way to keep her emails, and particularly her interactions while Secretary of State with the Clinton Foundation, out of the public reach, out of public accountability,” Pence said. “And with regard to classified information she either knew or should have known that she was placing classified information in a way that exposed it to being hacked and being made available in the public domain even to enemies of this country.”

The experts told IndyStar that similar arguments about a lack of transparency could be made about Pence’s use of a personal email account.

“There is an issue of double standard here,” said Gerry Lanosga, a professor at Indiana University and past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. “He has been far from forthcoming about his own private email account on which it’s clear he has conducted state business. So there is a disconnect there that cannot be avoided.”

Security concerns

As governor, Pence oversaw Indiana’s state police, national guard and department of homeland security, all of which collaborate with federal authorities and handle sensitive information.

The emails provided to IndyStar show that Pence corresponded with his then-chief of staff, Jim Atterholt, and his top public safety and homeland security adviser John Hill, on subjects including Pence’s efforts to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees and the state’s response to a shooting at Canada’s national parliament building.

“I just received an update from the FBI regarding the individuals arrested for support of ISIS,” Hill wrote to Pence in a Jan. 8, 2016 email with the subject, “Arrests of Refugees.”

At that time, the Pence administration was embroiled in a lawsuit over the governor’s effort to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana.

Hill went on to explain how many people were arrested, on what charges and in which cities before adding in underlined type: “Both of the earlier referenced refugees are reported now as ‘Iraqi’ — not Syrian.”

Much if not all of that information appears to have been reported in the media at the time. But questions remain about the more sensitive information contained in Pence’s AOL account that the Holcomb administration declined to release.

Experts say there have been high-profile security lapses involving AOL email accounts in the past. The company reported a major breach of its email in 2014 affecting hundreds of thousands of users. The following year, messages hackers obtained from then-CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL account were posted on WikiLeaks.

Pence’s own account was compromised in June when a hacker sent a counterfeit email to his contacts claiming Pence he and his wife had been attacked on their way back to their hotel in the Philippines, losing their money, bank cards and mobile phone.

In response, Pence sent an email to those who had received the fake communication apologizing for any inconvenience. He also set up a new AOL account.

Because the hacker appears to have gained access to Pence’s contacts, experts say it is likely that the account was actually penetrated, giving the hacker access to Pence’s inbox and sent messages.

The nature of that hack suggests it was part of a broad, impersonal attack — not one carefully crafted to target Pence in particular, Cappos said.

“It’s particularly concerning that someone who didn’t do a very particular, very specific attack was able to hack this account,” he said.

That’s especially true given that at least some of the emails Pence sent or received have been deemed confidential or exempt from public disclosure.

“The fact that these emails are stored in a private AOL account is crazy to me,” Cappos said. “This account was used to handle these messages that are so sensitive they can’t be turned over in a records request.”

As governor, Pence was less likely than the U.S. secretary of state to encounter national security secrets, said Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

But much of the rationale behind the criticism of Clinton’s emails would apply to Pence, too, he said.

“A large part of the criticism of (Hillary Clinton’s) personal server by the GOP — that it was unsafe or that it was to circumvent oversight — would be misplaced if Pence was using an AOL account,” he said. “The Secretary of State would be in possession of secrets that had more of a national impact, but at a lower level, a private email account has the same implications.”

Transparency issues

In addition to security issues, Pence’s personal email account also raises new concerns about transparency, according to ethics experts and government accountability advocates.

Pence is already fighting in state court to conceal the contents of emails involving his decision to join a 2014 lawsuit challenging then-President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. The emails are being sought by William Groth, a Democrat and labor lawyer who says he wants to expose waste in the Republican administration.

Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush, said it’s bothersome that Pence is only now transferring his AOL emails to the state. It raises questions about whether those emails were included in previous responses to public records requests. “That’s a problem that should have been dealt with back then,” he said. “The existence of the private email account should have been dealt with at the time the record requests were made.”

The use of personal email accounts by public officials — including governors — is nothing new. But the increased risk that hackers, including foreign actors, could break into the account of someone as high-ranking as the vice president of the United States is disconcerting, Painter said.

“Clinton did it. The Bush White House was doing it. It’s nothing new. But it’s a bad idea,” he said, noting that Pence’s account was vulnerable to a low-level hacker.  “If they can get in there, ex-KGB agents can get in there. It’s a bad idea because of the hacking thing and the potential destruction of records.”

Lanosga of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government said it’s a problem that seems to cross party lines.

“Officials are eager to point the finger at a lack of transparency when it happens on the other side,” he said, “but they dodge those issues when it comes to their own side.”

(h/t IndyStar)

 

 

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