Developments on Day 70 of the Trump Administration:
Flynn: Trump-Russia Testimony In Return for Immunity
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn tells the FBI and Congressional officials that he will testify about the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia in return for immunity, according to “officials with knowledge of the matter”.
Flynn was dismissed from the Administration after 24 days, amid furor over his five conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29, the same day that President Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia over its hacking and interference in the 2016 election.
The general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency was also paid tens of thousands of dollars by three Russian companies, including the State-sponsored media network RT, for speeches he made shortly before he became a formal adviser to Trump’s campaign. He was flown to Moscow by RT and seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremonial dinner for the broadcaster.
Flynn made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees through his lawyer but has so far not had a response, the officials said.
One Congressional official said investigators are waiting until the enquiry is further along, and what information Flynn might provide, before considering the immunity request.
Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner, would not comment on details but said, “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”
Donald Trump — apparently unaware that immunity is usually sought out of concern that a crime has been committed — reacted on Friday morning:
Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 31, 2017
Unconfirmed reports have circulated for days that Flynn, also facing criticism over his lobbying for the Turkish Government in 2016, had been “flipped” by the US agencies investigating the Trump-Russia claims.
The House Intelligence Committee’s hearings opened March 20 but have been effectively suspended amid chairman Devin Nunes’ collaboration with the White House.
The Senate Intelligence Committee opened its hearings yesterday. Its Republican and Democratic leaders, Richard Burr and Mark Warner, will speak to 20 potential witnesses privately next week.
Burr indicated that Flynn could be among them.
Flynn in September 2016, commenting on disputes around Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, “When you are given immunity, that means that you’ve probably committed a crime”:
Michael Flynn in September: "When you are given immunity, that means that you've probably committed a crime." pic.twitter.com/w5wir35ZfX
— Axios (@axios) March 31, 2017
Trump’s comment in October:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2016
2 White House Officials Fed Documents to House Intelligence Committee Chairman
A pair of White House officials gave intelligence reports to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, according to four officials.
Nunes, a Republican from California, visited the White House grounds on March 21 to receive the information that Trump and his associates were incidentally monitored in surveillance of Russian officials by US agencies investigating Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.
The White House staff who met Nunes were identified by sources as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office.
Nunes conferred on March 22 with Trump about the information and subsequently cancelled the committee hearing planned for last Tuesday, as well as the panel’s regular sessions this week.
Nunes — who worked on the Trump transition team after the November election — is refusing to name the officials, having portrayed them as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.
Trump’s press spokesman Sean Spicer has claimed that no White House staff met Nunes. He refused to confirm or deny at his Thursday briefing that Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cohen-Watnick were Mr. Nunes’s sources.
Cohen-Watnick is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who served on the Trump transition team and was brought to the White House by Michael Flynn, then the National Security Advisor. He was nearly forced out of his job this month by Flynn’s successor H. R. McMaster, but survived after the intervention of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon.
Ellis is a former counsel for Nunes’ House Intelligence Committee.
Democrats on the Committee have said that Nunes is compromised by the involvement with the White House and must step aside, but Republicans appear to be still backing the chairman.
Trump Picks Fight With GOP Conservatives
Donald Trump uses Twitter to pick a fight with Republican conservatives of the Freedom Caucus.
Members of the Caucus were instrumental in forcing last week’s withdrawal of the GOP bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare. They argued that the legislation, set out by Speaker Paul Ryan and backed by the lobbying of Trump and his Cabinet, did not go far enough to bury the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump criticized the Caucus after the withdrawal and turned on them again on Thursday:
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
He continued by calling out three Representatives among the Caucus’ leadership:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Labrador, who represents a district in Idaho, replied:
@realDonaldTrump Freedom Caucus stood with u when others ran. Remember who your real friends are. We're trying to help u succeed.
— Raúl R. Labrador (@Raul_Labrador) March 30, 2017
Questioned about Trump’s outburst, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer said, “Let the tweet speak for itself”:
White House Lets Science Staff Dwindle to Non-Existent
The White House is letting its science staff dwindle towards non-existence.
The staff of the White House chief technology officer is down from 24 to a single person and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been almost wiped out by departures.
Trump’s only hire so far is Michael Kratsios, the former chief of staff for Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, as Deputy Chief Technology Officer.
The withering of the offices accompany Trump’s orders reversing climate change policies and sharp reductions in spending on science, technology, and health, eliminating many programs and almost ending climate change research. The White House is also limiting the Environmental Protection Agency, hiring EPA opponent Scott Pruitt to head the agency and proposing a 31% cut in funding.
Energy Department’s Office Bans “Climate Change” in Memos
A supervisor at the Energy Department’s international climate office tells staff not to use the phrases “climate change” and “emissions reduction” in memoranda, briefings, and other written communication.
Employees of the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy were told of the ban at a meeting Tuesday, the same day Donald Trump signed an executive order reversing climate change policies.
The supervisor also barred the phrase “Paris Agreement”, the 2015 international accord to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
Officials in the State Department and other Energy Department offices said they had not been given a list of banned words list, but have started avoiding climate-related terms in their memoranda and briefings. An Energy Department source said preferred terms were “jobs” and “infrastructure”.
Senate Removes Protection for Family Planning and Reproductive Health Funds
The Senate removes protection for federal grants for clinics that provide contraception and other services in states which want to block the funding.
Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie vote.
The protection was enacted in the final weeks of the Obama Administration.
In recent years states such as Texas have prevented some healthcare providers from receiving grants.
Republicans say they are concerned that federal money is being used to provide abortions, even though the grants are specifically barred from funding those procedures.
State Department Lifts Human Rights Restrictions on Arms to Bahrain
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lifts human rights restrictions on US arms sales to Bahrain.
The State Department notified Congress of its intent to proceed with the sale of F-16 fighter jets and other weapons without the human rights conditions. Congress now has two review periods to examine the trade and raise any objections.
The Bahrain monarchy has suppressed mass protests since February 2011, imposing long prison sentences on activists and killing scores of demonstrators.