TrumpWatch, Day 148: Trump Presses Deputy Attorney General to Fire Special Counsel

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National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster with Donald Trump, June 16, 2017

Trump pursues campaign against “phony” investigation of Special Counsel Mueller via Twitter


Developments on Day 148 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Blasts Deputy Attorney General Over Trump-Russia Special Counsel

Still seeking the dismissal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Donald Trump presses Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to take action.

Early this week Trump sought the firing of Mueller, the former FBI Director who was named to head the Trump-Russia inquiry only a month ago. Close friend Christopher Ruddy and then White House officials described an angered Trump being held back from the firing by officials who said it would only heighten the prospect of impeachment. Sources said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not carry out the dismissal — meaning that Trump would also have to fire him, a scenario reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the top Justice Department officials during the Watergate scandal in 1973.

But, far from backing down, Trump renewed his campaign on Friday with a Twitter blast against Rosenstein:

Rosenstein — “the man who told me to fire FBI Director” — wrote the memo that the White House used to justify Trump’s sudden dismissal of FBI head James Comey on May 9. The document claimed that Comey inappropriate handled the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails in 2016.

However, Trump destroyed that cover story — with both his declaration to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the next day and televised interviews during the week — that Comey was dismissed over the investigation into the links between Trump’s associates and Russia amid Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election. Observers also noted yesterday that Trump said in the interviews that he decided to fire Comey, not that he was “told” by Rosenstein.

Trump may have been further frustrated becase Rosenstein told a Congressional committee on Wednesday that he would not dismiss Mueller and might not carry out any Trump directive to do so: “I’m not going to follow any order unless I believe they are lawful and appropriate orders. It wouldn’t matter to me what anybody said.”

Trump’s angry tweets about the “phony” and “Sad!” investigation came after further revelations of the expanding scope of the inquiry. US officials confirmed that Trump is now a subject, following his two attempts to persuade high-ranking staff — Comey, Director of National Dan Coats, and National Security head Mike Rogers — to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Sources then disclosed that Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner is under investigation over his business dealings, following Kushner’s December meetings with Kislyak and with a top Russian banker connected to the Kremlin.

See TrumpWatch, Day 147: Special Counsel Investigating Kushner’s FinancesTrumpWatch, Day 146: Trump Investigated for Obstruction of Justice

Rosenstein is now the lead in the Justice Department for the Trump-Russia inquiry because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself over his own encounters with Kislyak in 2016. Sessions tried earlier this week to defend himself, and to shield Trump from attention, in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, only for his effort to soon be overtaken by confirmation that the investigation is now looking at the President.

See TrumpWatch, Day 145: Sessions Stonewalls in Senate Hearing

Aides said Rosenstein has become a favorite target for Trump in conversations with advisors and friends. But they said Trump realizes that he cannot fire the Deputy Attorney General without a widespread backlash on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans.

On Thursday, after the revelation that the investigation into Trump was underway, Rosenstein put out a statement:

Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials’, particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated.

The Justice Department insisted that, despite the curious wording — reports were clearly based on information from US officials — Rosenstein had written the statement, rather than it being drafted by the White House and put out in his name.

“Single Greatest Witch Hunt”

Trump’s fixation on the “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history” continued on Friday night with his retweeting of Fox TV host Sean Hannity, who has loudly proclaimed a “deep state conspiracy” against Trump.

Critics chastised Trump for devoting his attention to the supposed conspiracy rather than acknowledging seven missing US sailors, lost at sea after a collision between their destroyer and a container ship east of Japan.

But Newt Gingrich, a staunch Trump ally, duly obliged by accusing Mueller of being the tip of the “deep-state spear aimed at destroying” the Trump Administration.

Gingrich also insisted, “Technically, the President of the United States cannot obstruct justice” — a shift of position for the man who, as Speaker of the House in 1998, insisted that Bill Clinton must be impeached because he was obstructing justice.

A White House official said Trump had again surprised his staff, who have told him to stay away from Twitter unless he has a positive: message or can usefully challenge Democrats: “I don’t think we have been formally told he’s under investigation.”

Trump’s Personal Lawyer Hires His Own Lawyer for Trump-Russia Inquiry

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, hires his own lawyer for the Trump-Russia investigation.

Cohen has retained Stephen M. Ryan, a Washington-based lawyer who has prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant US attorney.

Trump has named another personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, for Trump-Russia questions and Vice President Pence employed outside counsel earlier this week.

TOP PHOTO: Donald Trump with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, June 16, 2017 (T.J. Kirkpatrick/New York Times)


Trump Claims $288 Million Income, Amid Possible Conflicts of Interest

Donald Trump claims $288 million in income from January 2016 through April 15, 2017 — but the disclosure may raise further questions about conflicts of interests.

Among the income is $37.2 million from Mar-a-Lago, the private Florida resort where Trump has spent several weekends since becoming President. The club, doubled its membership fee in the past year, recorded a $7.4 million increase in income.

Trump also declared $19.8 million from his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he has spent some weekends this spring, and $19.7 million at his Washington DC hotel — now the focus of a lawsuit by the Attorneys Generals of Washington and Maryland, alleging Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” prohibiting profits from foreign entities while in office.

Overall, Trump’s reported income was at least $594.57 million while he had at least $315 million in liabilities, including $130 million to Deutsche Bank.

Trump has repeatedly declared, during the campaign and as President, that he has no debt. The figures also indicate that he has exaggerated his wealth, complementing information in court decisions in 2009 and 2011, when he claimed assets of up to $10 billion.

The White House filing indicates a worth of $1.4 billion.


Civil Rights Agency to Investigate Trump Administration

The United States Commission on Civil Rights approves a comprehensive two-year inquiry into the “degree to which current budgets and staffing levels allow civil rights offices to perform” their functions within the Trump Administration.

The bipartisan agency is concerned about budget and personnel reduction in seven agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. It said in a statement that the “proposed cuts would result in a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination”.

The Commission said the “repeated refusal” of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to commit to enforcing federal civil rights during Congressional testimony coupled with deep budget cuts within the agency’s Office of Civil Rights is “particularly troubling”.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month, DeVos would not commit to banning discrimination against LGBTQ students, insisting that the law is “unsettled.”

The Education Department is scaling back investigations into civil rights violations at public schools and universities, retracting requirements that investigators broaden inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes. Regional offices will no longer have to the Department of all highly sensitive complaints on issues, such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses.

The directives push back Obama-era guidance that brought far-reaching investigations and resolutions leading to the overhaul by schools and universities of policies addressing a number of civil rights concerns. The civil rights office has found itself understaffed and struggling to meet the goal of closing cases within 180 days.


Trump To Allow “Dreamers” To Stay…For Now

Donald Trump will not immediately eliminate protections for “Dreamers”, undocumented immigrants who came to the US.

New memoranda issued by Department of Homeland Security said it will continue the Obama-era initiative to protect the immigrants from deportation and provide them with work permits so they can find legal employment.

A fact sheet posted on the DHS’s website said immigrants enrolled in the 2012 program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, “will continue to be eligible” to renew every two years, and “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates”.

But White House officials said Trump had not made a decision about the long-term fate of the program and might yet follow through on a campaign pledge to take away work permits from the immigrants or deport them.

The Department and White House said the statements were only to clarify that immigrants in the DACA program will not immediately be affected by a separate action officially ending a similar program for undocumented immigrants whose children are citizens or legal permanent residents.

“There has been no final determination made about the DACA program, which the president has stressed needs to be handled with compassion and with heart,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at DHS.

The program being terminated had offered the chance for about 4 million people to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.


Senate Majority Leader McConnell Refuses to Meet Patient Advocacy Groups Over Healthcare

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to meet patient advocacy groups over the proposed replacement for ObamaCare.

more than 15 groups — including the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, the American Lung Assocation, and the American Diabetes Association — asked McConnell’s office for a meeting at any time next week. A representative from McConnell’s office said staff schedules were too busy.

Republican Senators have been criticized for secrecy as they consider their version of the American Health Care Act, finally passed at the third attempt by the House of Representatives in early May.

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