TrumpWatch, Day 69: Senate to Open Trump-Russia Hearings

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Senate Intelligence Committee hearings open on Thursday, with first witnesses interviewed next week


Developments on Day 69 of the Trump Administration:

Senate Committee Opens Trump-Russia Hearings on Thursday

The Senate Intelligence Committee announces its hearings into possible ties between Trump associates and Russian official will open on Thursday.

The Republican and Democratic leaders on the committee portrayed an organized, responsible hearing, in contrast to the compromised and now-suspended process by the House Intelligence Committee.

The Republican chair of the Senate committee, Richard Burr, assured, “This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads.” Asked whether he could say if Donald Trump was directly involved in talks with the Russians, he replied, “We know that our challenge is to answer that question for the American people.”

Top Democrat Mark Warner said there could have been 1,000 Russian internet trolls in Russia generating false news and targeting swing states in the November Presidential election such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Burr added that it was clear that the Russians are “actively involved” in upcoming French elections.

The two men said they will privately interview 20 potential witnesses next Monday.

The committee has summoned Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, who met Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and the head of one of Russia’s largest banks in December. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, under scrutiny for his business and political links with the Russians, has volunteered his testimony.

Burr and Warner did not say when Kushner and Manafort might appear, but they did indicate that Michael Flynn — the former National Security Advisor dismissed over his conversations in late December with Kislyak — will be testifying.

The Senate is proceeding as the chairman of the House committee, Devin Nunes, has effectively collapsed its inquiry by collaborating with the Trump Administration.

The House hearings opened on March 20, but two days later Nunes received information from a source on the White House grounds and then conferred with Trump about the next steps. The chairman then cancelled the hearing scheduled for March 28 and this week’s regular meetings of the committee.

Burr referred to the House turmoil on Wednesday, “Let me set the ground rules real quick. We’ll answer anything about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation. We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee.”

Burr could not suppress a smirk at his statement, as Warner laughed.

TOP PHOTO: Senators Richard Burr (right) and Mark Warner

Federal Judge Suspends “Muslim Ban” Indefinitely

A federal judge suspends Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban” on entry into the US indefinitely.

US District Court Judge Derrick Watson granted the state of Hawaii’s request for a longer-term halt of the executive order, which blocks consideration of visas for citizens of six mainly-Muslim countries. for 90 days and entry to refugees for 120 days.

Watson issued a temporary restraining order two weeks ago, ruling that the ban likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by discriminating against Muslims.

The judge reiterated on Wednesday that Trump and his advisors had repeatedly said that they would bar entry to Muslims, even if the order did not make that explicit: “The Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has.”

The Justice Department will now consider taking its case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Trump’s initial executive order in February.

Trump’s Daughter Ivanka Becomes Unpaid White House Employee

Ivanka Trump is named as a Presidential special assistant, following ethics concerns about her position in the White House.

Ivanka Trump moved into an office in the West Wing last week, ostensibly to work on women’s issues. She was not formally bounds by ethics rules, even though she — contrary to a Trump promise after the election — was applying for security clearance and had access to classified information.

In a statement, she said that because of the ethics issue:

I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees. Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.

Her husband, Jared Kushner, is a senior adviser to Donald Trump.

The White House said, “Ivanka’s service as an unpaid employee furthers our commitment to ethics, transparency, and compliance.”

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