“I hope they stay because they’re valuable to the national security of our nation.”

Developments on Day 259 of the Trump Administration:

See also Iran Daily: Trump to Declare “Decertification” — But Not US Withdrawal — of Nuclear Deal

Senator Corker Steps Up Concern About Trump’s Stability

A leading Republican Senator has said that Donald Trump’s advisors are the “people that help separate our country from chaos”.

In some of the sharpest criticism of Trump to date, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee (pictured), the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:

They work very well together to make sure the policies we put forth around the world are sound and coherent. There are other people within the administration that don’t. I hope they stay because they’re valuable to the national security of our nation.

Journalists noted that the Senator’s remarks were not a sudden outburst: he had spoken to them about his worries over Trump before going in front of the cameras.

Corker’s comments on Wednesday came amid headline coverage of Tillerson’s purported declaration at a July that Trump is a “f****** moron”, amid the President’s impetuous approach to Afghanistan and his rambling, politicized speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization once led by the Secretary of State.

See Podcast: Tillerson (and Others) v. “Moron” Trump
TrumpWatch, Day 258: How “Moron” Overtook Trump in Las Vegas

Despite counselling from Vice President Mike Pence, Mattis, and Kelly — including their dissuasion of Tillerson’s resignation, according to sources, although the former Exxon CEO denied this part of the story —- the Secretary of State continues to be undermined by Trump. Last weekend the President used Twitter to dismiss Tillerson’s revelation of back-channel discussions to ease the crisis over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Corker commented that Tillerson is “in an incredibly frustrating place”:

He ends up not being supported in the way I would hope a Secretary of State would be supported….He’s in a very trying situation — trying to solve many of the world’s problems without the support and help I’d like to see him have.

In August, following Trump’s controversial response to white supremacist violence in Virginia, Corker — who was considered as a Secretary of State by the incoming Administration — said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful”.

Trump responded on Twitter with pressure on Corker to leave the Senate: =”Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me wether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!”

Last month, Corker announced that he is stepping down next year. But that appears to have freed him in his remaining months in Congress to be more vocal in his concerns about the President.

FEMA Deletes Statistics About Puerto Rico’s Water and Electricity Problems After Hurricane Maria

The Federal Emergency Management Agency deletes statistics indicating the scale of the problems over water and electricity in Puerto Rico, more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria.

As of Wednesday, half of Puerto Ricans had access to drinking water and only 5% to power, according to FEMA’s Web page. But by Thursday morning, the information was gone.

FEMA spokesman William Booher argued that both statistics are still on a website maintained by the office of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló, which says 9.2% of the island has electricity and 54.2% of residents have access to drinking water.

Booher did not say why the numbers were no longer on FEMA’s page.

The statistics remaining on FEMA’s page prop up Donald Trump’s declarations of success and an assertion by his Acting Director of Homeland Security of “a good-news story”. They include 14,000 federal workers on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, up from 12,300 earlier in the week; all airports, federally-maintained ports, and post offices are open; more than 30 miles of roads cleared, up from about 20 miles earlier in the week; about 65% of grocery stores reopened, along with nearly all hospitals and dialysis centers; and 64% of wastewater treatment plants working on generator power.

Officials have said that it could be months before power and water are fully restored to Puerto Rico.

Special Counsel’s Team Met with Compiler of Trump-Russia Dossier

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators met this summer with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who compiled a 2016 dossier setting out contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and businessmen.

The meetings support information that the FBI and the rest of the US intelligence community have taken the Steele dossier seriously, despite allegations which include lurid claims that Trump was compromised by the Russians over his sexual activity.

Much of the details in the dossier has corresponded with later revelations about Trump-Russia contacts over political and financial matters.

The intelligence agencies kept Steele’s material out of a publicly-released January report on Russian meddling in the election, so they did not divulge which parts of the dossier they have corroborated and how they have done so.

Donald Trump has insisted that the dossier is “totally made-up stuff” by a “failed spy” who relied upon “sleazebag political operatives”.

Steele has so far refused to meet with staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, perhaps because of the intent of its GOP chairman Richard Burr to discover Steele’s sources and “sub-sources”.

White House on Trump’s “Investigate Media” Tweet: “An Incredible Advocate of the First Amendment”

The White House converts Donald Trump’s call on the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate media into a supposed defense of freedom of the press under the 1st Amendment.

Frustrated at the reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron”, Trump tweeted on Thursday morning:

Asked about the message at her press briefing, White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained, “The President is an incredible advocate of the First Amendment.”

She then tried to turn the issue against the media: “With the First amendment … with those freedoms also come responsibilities. You have a responsibility to tell the truth. To be accurate.”

Attorney Seth Abramson noted:

$800,000+ Bill for Mnuchin’s Flights on Military Aircraft

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has run up a bill of more than $800,000 on his seven flights on military aircraft since March.

The tab includes a $15,000 round-trip flight to New York to meet Donald Trump at Trump Tower, according to the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The inquiry by the Inspector General, prompted by an Instagram posting by Mnuchin’s wife Louise Linton about a trip to Kentucky, found he broke no laws. However, it criticized the justification provided for the costly flights.

The Inspector General wrotes, “What is of concern is a disconnect between the standard of proof called for [by the Office of Management and Budget] and the actual amount of proof provided by Treasury and accepted by the White House in justifying these trip requests.”

Mnuchin withdrew a request for a military plane for his European honeymoon with Linton in August, but another flight is scheduled for later this month to travel to the Middle East.

Several members of the Trump Cabinet are being investigated for their use of military aircraft and/or Government-funded chartered flights. Last Friday, Health Secretary Tom Price after compiling at least $400,000 in bills for chartered planes. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has used an expensive chartered airplane for several flights, including after an appearance at a Las Vegas event for one of his major campaign donors. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has spent more than $58,000 on chartered and military flights, and David Shulkin, the Veterans Affairs Secretary, took his wife on a 10-day trip to Europe that mixed business meetings and sightseeing.

Sessions to Justice Department: Civil Rights Act Does Not Protect Transgender People

Attorney General Jeff Sessions orders the Justice Department
to argue in court cases that transgender people are not protected by a civil rights law that bans workplace discrimination based on sex.

In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered the Department to view “sex” as encompassing gender identity, extending protections to transgender people, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a two-page memo to all United States attorneys and other senior officials, Sessions revoked the directive. He said “sex” means only “biologically male or female”, so the Civil Rights Act does not ban “discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status”.

He asserted that the department “will take that position in all pending and future matters”, except in cases in which a controlling lower-court precedent dictated otherwise, in which case it would reserve the option to revisit the issue on appeal.

The Justice Department is trying to exit an employment discrimination lawsuit in Oklahoma that it filed alongside a transgender plaintiff. A judge appointed by President George W. Bush previously ruled in the lawsuit that the Civil Rights Act does cover gender identity.

Trump Nominates Coal Lobbyist & Ally of Climate Change Deniers as Deputy Head of EPA

Donald Trump nominates Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist with links to deniers of climate change, as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The nomination comes as, under its anti-protection administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA is preparing to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

Wheeler was a former aide to Senator James Inhofe, who has led the campaign against action to deal with climate change. He then was at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, with clients including Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies.

Inhofe. proponents of fossil fuels, and opponents of climate change policy welcomed the nomination. Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said:

It’s a solid choice. Andrew is highly qualified, can work with Congress and understands what needs to be done to articulate President Trump and Administrator Pruitt’s vision of resetting our energy and environmental policies.

Administration Limits Requirement for Birth Control in Healthcare Plans

The Trump Administration is limiting the federal requirement for employers to include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, expanding exemptions for those who cite moral or religious objections.

The new rules fulfill a Trump campaign promise and also accompany the administration’s efforts to undermine ObamaCare with steps limiting existing or new enrollments.

More than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

But one new rule offers an exemption to any employer or insurer that objects to covering contraceptive services “based on sincerely held religious beliefs”. Another offers a new exemption to employers that have “moral convictions” against covering contraceptives.