TrumpWatch, Day 26: Trump-Russian Story Grows

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Trouble grows for Donald Trump over Russian connections


Developments on Day 26 of the Trump Administration:

See also Political WorldView Podcast: Brexit and Trump’s Phone Calls Edition

More Trump-Russia Revelations

Despite the departure of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Trump faces more questions over his Administration’s links to Russian officials.

See Trump’s Advisors Met With Russian Intelligence Officials
US Podcast: The Downfall of Michael Flynn
TrumpWatch, Day 25: Flynn Resigns; Trudeau & Trump

Trump and some GOP legislators tried on Tuesday morning that the issue is leaks to the media rather than Flynn’s conversations on December 29 with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about US sanctions on Moscow — and when the President and his senior advisors knew about the phone calls.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted:

It is leaks. If you think about it, all of this information was leaked. I mean, again, I know we’ve got this me lecturing you about what the story should be. I think there’s a real story here.

Flynn took the same line on Monday, hours before his resignation, in an interview with The Daily Caller: “You call them leaks. It’s a criminal act. This is a crime.” [The National Security Advisor also said that, having been instructed not to speak to media over the weekend, he had been “told to go out and talk more” by Trump, who “expressed confidence” in him.]

However, the Administration’s efforts were overtaken by new information. The New York Times revealed that Trump campaign officials, including chair Paul Manafort, had discussions with Russian intelligence officials throughout 2016. Current and former US officials said the FBI interviewed Flynn in Trump’s first days in office — raising the question of whether the National Security Advisor lied, as he reportedly did to Vice President Mike Pence, about the content of the five December 29 calls with the Russian Ambassador.

The media also pressed on the timing of Trump’s knowledge of Flynn’s conversations. Then-Attorney General Sally Yates informed Trump of her concerns on January 26 — more than two weeks before the President said he would “look into” the matter. Meanwhile, Pence — who had insisted after his conversation with Flynn that sanctions had not been discussed with the Russians — was not told of the Attorney General’s letter until February 9.

Congressional Democrats are pressing for an inquiry into the Flynn affair and Trump’s ties to Russia. More importantly, some Republican Senators are now supporting some form of investigation — not just John McCain and Lindsay Graham, fierce opponents of the President, but also the chair and second-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Roy Blunt and John Cornyn.

Former Wrestling Executive Confirmed As Head of Small Business Administration

The Senate votes 81-19 to confirm former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon as head of the Small Business Administration.

Donald Trump has a long-time connection with WWE, having appeared throughout 2007 on the program.

McMahon moved into politics in 2010 with an unsuccessful run for the US Senate in Connecticut.

In a rare uncontested confirmation, long-time health administrator David Shulkin was approved unanimously to head the Veteran’s Administration.

Sanctions on Venezuela VP

The US Treasury sanctions Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami over alleged drug trafficking.

The Treasury also blacklisted one of the VP’s associates, Samark Lopez Bello, and 13 companies owned or controlled by him or other parties in an international network across the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Britain, the US, and Venezuela.

“El Aissami facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan airbase, as well as control of drug routes through the ports of Venezuela,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters. “El Aissami oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1000 kg from Venezuela on multiple occasions including shipments from Mexico and to the United States.”

Since 2015 the Obama Administration had tried to use behind-the-scenes diplomacy with Caracas to limit the fallout of a string of U.S drug indictments against Venezuelan officials, including Nestor Reverol, the head of the National Guard.

Trump Repeals Requirement for Energy Companies to Disclose Foreign Payments

Trump signs legislation to repeal the regulation requiring energy companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.

The resolution repeals a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule written under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. It was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on US stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments.

Government Ethics Body: Reprimand Conway for Violation Over Ivanka’s Merchandise

The Office of Government Ethics calls on the White House to “consider taking disciplinary action” against Trump’s counsellor Kellyanne Conway for endorsing Ivanka Trump’s products during an interview with the Fox News Channel.

The OGE said Conway was “unquestionably appearing in her official capacity…between the official seal of the White House and the American flag”, thus establish a “clear[ing] violation of the prohibition against misuse of position.”

Conway’s interview arose from a tweet by Trump attacking the Seattle-based department store Nordstrom, which said it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s products because of poor sales.

As President, Trump is exempt from overview by the OGE.

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