Billionaire backers choose Trump over Bannon

Developments on Day 355 of the Trump Administration:

See Podcast: Is Trump Going to Make a Deal on Immigration?
Podcast: Is Bannon Finished?

Can Bannon’s Hard-Right Insurgency Continue?

Steve Bannon (pictured), the hard-right ideologue and former White House chief strategist, is forced to step down as head of the attack site Breitbart following his criticism of Donald Trump’s family and inner circle.

Bannon’s eviction came suddenly on Tuesday. Officially, it was presented as a mutually-agreed departure and a “smooth transition”.

However, the downfall of the executive officer was reportedly organized by his billionaire backer, the billionaire Mercer family, which has bankrolled Breitbart. Bannon’s Breitbart radio program was also terminated by the SiriusXM network.

When Bannon was dismissed from the White House in August, after his hard-right agenda and approach fell foul of other advisors such as Chief of Staff John Kelly, he promised a “#WAR” on behalf of Trump against the Republican “establishment”. He and Breitbart groomed insurgent challengers to Republican incumbents in primaries for the 2018 Congressional elections.

But this autumn, Bannon’s criticism was extended to Trump’s family, notably “Javanka”, son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka, who are both senior White House advisors. In comments for a profile in Vanity Fair, he also indicated that Kushner’s undeclared meetings with foreign entities may have drawn the Trump campaign and transition into ties with Russian actors.

Those remarks were dramatically amplified in a book by Michael Wolff, published last week, in which Bannon continued the assault on “Javanka” and extended the remarks about Trump-Russia links. He called Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” over their meeting with Kremlin-linked envoys in June 2016 in Trump Tower in New York. He said the chances that Trump Sr. did not meet the Russians was “zero”, and predicted the downfall of the Trump inner circle over Russian financial involvement.

Widely criticized and pressed by Trump — who labelled him “Sloppy Steve” — and the Mercers, Bannon finally stepped back last weekend, saying his “treasonous” remark was directed only at Manafort and calling Trump Jr. (though not Kushner) “patriotic”. But reports circulated that the statement, distributed by an associate, was not authorized by Bannon.

Whether or not the executive officer approved the statement, the concession was not enough for either Trump or Bannon’s ideological backer Rebekah Mercer.

Mercer is also reportedly concerned that Breitbart’s failure with the surprise defeat of Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate special election could be defined as corporate contributions to Moore and other “insurgent” Republicans, which are barred under federal election law.

Bannon played down the threat, reportedly telling friends in recent days, “The Mercers haven’t given me money in years.”

In a statement issued in his name on Tuesday night, Bannon ignored the controversy. Instead, he said that he was “proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform”.

Breitbart downplayed the departure, publishing only a four-sentence story with Bannon’s official statement and that of Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, “Steve is a valued part of our legacy, and we will always be grateful for his contributions, and what he has helped us to accomplish.”

Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Deportation of “Dreamers”

A federal judge in California issues a nationwide injunction ordering the Trump Administration to restart the “Dreamers” program for young undocumented immigrants.

Judge William Alsup of the Federal District Court in San Francisco said the administration must maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, mandated by Barack Obama in an executive order in 2012.

Donald Trump ordered the end of the program in September, setting it to expire for about 800,000 immigrants on March 5.

Trump has said that he will work with legislators to establish DACA in law, but only if they support the construction of a 2,000-mile US-Mexico border wall.

One of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Janet Napolitano, is currently the president of the sprawling University of California system of colleges but served as the secretary of homeland security for Mr. Obama in 2012 and was an architect of the DACA program.

Judge Alsup questioned the administration’s contention that the DACA program had not been put into place legally. He also cited several of Trump’s tweets backing the program, after the President’s sudden declaration in September that he would work with Democrats on legislation.

Alsop said existing Dreamers must be allowed to renew their status in the program, but the Government does not have to accept accept new applications from immigrants who have not previously submitted one. The judge also said the Administration can continue to prevent DACA recipients from returning to the US if they leave the country.

A Justice Department spokesman insisted that the ruling did not change the Government’s position:

The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner. Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.

On Tuesday, Trump met Republican and Democratic lawmakers for a 55-minute discussion of immigration. The display appeared to be tailored both to show Trump’s desire for a bipartisan approach, despite his insistence on the Wall, and his command amid growing concern about his fitness for office.

Fusion GPS: FBI Corroborated Our Trump-Russia Dossier With Source Inside Trump Campaign

In a series of statements damning Donald Trump’s line over Russian interference in the 2016 election, the head of a private intelligence firm has said its dossier was corroborated by the FBI — including from a source inside the Trump campaign.

Fusion GPS escalated discussion of Trump-Russia links last December when its dossier of 17 memoranda, drawing from Russian sources on topics such as meetings between Trump campaign staff and Russian officials and on Moscow’s financial involvement, was made public. Some Republicans have spent months trying to undermine the document as specious and politically-motivated, leading to the appearance of Glenn Simpson, the co-founded of Fusion GPS, before a Senate hearing.

But Simpson stood firm, telling Senators that the FBI “had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and… that they believed Chris’s information [a reference to former British intelligence officer Christopher, who compiled the dossier] might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing”.

Read the transcript

Simpson explained how he and his staff, including Steele, were surprised by what they found in the investigation initially backed by the conservative website Washington Free Beacon and then by Democrats:

The purpose of this was to see if we could learn more, generally speaking, about [Trump’s] business dealings in Russia. What came back was something very different and obviously more alarming which had to do with…a political conspiracy and a much broader set of issues.

To me this was like, you know, you’re driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911,” he said in another part of the testimony.

At one point, Simpson claimed a direct lie by Donald Trump about his connections with the Russians. He noted Trump’s remarks about a long-time business associate, Felix Sater, who tried to set up projects in Russia: “[He] testified under oath that he wouldn’t know Felix if he ran into him on the street. That was not true. He knew him well and, indeed, continued to associate with him long after he learned of Felix’s organized crime ties.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, defying Republicans, released the transcript of Simpson’s testimony on Tuesday.