“I will NEVER sign another bill like this again”

Developments on Day 428 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Acting Without Consultation

In another day of chaotic activity, Donald Trump uses Twitter to threaten a Government shutdown before stepping back in a rambling press briefing.

Increasingly acting without consultation of advisors — and after watching Fox TV — Trump opened Friday by retracting his approval of a $1.3 trillion bipartisan spending agreement to keep the Government open through September, in the absence of any budget from the Administration.

Trump appeared to ignore staff as he again tied the fate of about 800,000 “Dreamer” immigrants, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals authorized by Barack Obama in 2012, to full funding of his $25 billion Wall with Mexico.

The bipartisan agreement only allocates a first tranches of $1.6 billion to the border barrier. Meanwhile, courts have suspended the termination of DACA, ordered by the Trump Administration last September.

Inside the White House, aides described bewildered resignation as they tried to cope with Trump’s sudden announcements and actions.

As aides tried to arrange an afternoon press briefing — uncertain what would be said — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly tried to check his boss. He summoned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to make the case for the assurance of military funding, to be given a significant increase, in the bill.

Mattis; Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; and Vice President Mike Pence — who postponed a trip to Atlanta — told Trump that the military spending level was historic and urged him to sign. Trump finally agreed and tweeted:

By 1:30 p.m., Trump signed the bill but told reporters of a “ridiculous situation”, as he railed against the bill: “Nobody more disappointed than me.”

The episode came 24 hours after Trump suddenly decided to remove National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, replacing him with hardliner John Bolton, and announced tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods while stepping back on steel and aluminum duties — impulsively ordered by Trump at the start of March — on American allies.

McMaster bid farewell to the staff of the National Security Council, receiving a three-minute standing ovation.

Meanwhile, Trump fumed. On Friday evening, he returned to Twitter:

The outburst is unlikely to have any legislative effect: the Supreme Court ruled Presidential line-item vetos are unconstitutional in a 1998 decision.

Trump Bans Transgender Troops Again — and Defense Secretary Mattis Supports Him

Donald Trump has again tried to ban transgender troops from serving in the US military.

The policy recommendation, from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, says “transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service”. It was made after court rulings froze Trump initial ban on transgender troops — issued via Twitter in July — as potentially unconstitutional.

“In my professional judgment, these policies will place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people, to fight and win America’s wars, and to ensure the survival and success of our service members around the world,” Mattis wrote in a summary of his recommendation.

In October, a judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia temporarily blocked Trump’s ban because it represented a “disapproval of transgender people generally”. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the military’s current policy permitting service should remain in place.

But in a February 22 memorandum to Trump, Mattis — contradicting the findings of a study by the military’s RAND Corporation — claimed “substantial risks” about transgender military personnel. He said their service is an exemption of certain mental, physical, and sex-based standards, and “could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality”.

He dismissed the RAND study as using “heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossing over the impacts of health care costs, readiness, and unit cohesion, and erroneously relying on the selective experiences of foreign militaries with different operational requirements than our own”.

“In short,” Mr. Mattis concluded, “this policy issue has proven more complex than the prior administration or Rand assumed.”

There is a loophole in the order allowing Mattis and the Homeland Security Secretary to “exercise their authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals”.

Confirmed: Senior Trump Staff Encouraged Papadopoulos’ Contacts With Russia

E-mails confirm that senior Trump campaign staff encouraged the attempts by advisor George Papadopoulos to establish contact with Russian officials.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying in the Trump-Russia investigation. At the time, court records confirmed that he had been supported from March 2016, in his effort to connect with Moscow and set up a Donald Trump meeting with Vladimir Putin, by campaign staff such as Sam Clovis and that campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was aware of the effort.

But the e-mails add confirmation from much later in the campaign, with remarks from staff such as deputy communications director Bryan Lanza in September 2016, “You should do it.”

The e-mails are among thousands of documents turned over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. They take apart the claim of Trump advisors that Papadopoulos was little more than a “coffee boy” for the campaign.

Among those who communicated with Papadopoulos were strategist Steve Bannon, who took over as campaign manager in August, and Michael Flynn, a senior advisor who has also pleaded guilty over his contacts with Russian officials.

In December 2016, as President-elect Trump was preparing to take office, Papadopoulos tried to serve as a conduit for the Russian-allied Greek Defense Minister, with a proposal for an alliance reviewed by Bannon and Flynn.

In the spring, Papadopoulos had pursued his mission of a Trump-Putin meeting through Joseph Mifsud, a London-based academic who was a contact of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Mifsud soon told Papadopoulos that Moscow had thousands of e-mails damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The Trump-Putin encounter was never arranged, but the e-mails confirm that Papadopoulos and the Russia link were still active in the autumn. On September 9, Papadopoulos wrote Deputy Communications Director Lanza:

Received a request from Interfax Russian News Agency with Ksenia Baygarova on U.S.-Russia ties under a President Trump. What do you think?

Lanza gave the go-ahead, citing the conflict in Syria as a reason to work with the Russians. Papadopoulos then offered to send the campaign a copy of the interview after it was published.

“You’re the best. Thank you!” Lanza responded.

Three weeks later, Papadopoulos’ interview was published by Interfax, with the advisor saying Trump had been “open about his willingness to usher in a new chapter in US-Russia ties”.

Papadopoulos also conferred with Steve Bannon about messages from a contact at the Egyptian Embassy expressing interest in a meeting between President Abdel Fatah El Sisi and Trump.

“This is a great move on our side. A home run,” Papadopoulos wrote Bannon

“Agree,” Bannon responded. “But very hard sell to DJT.”

But Trump and El Sisi met the next night at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

“We met for a long time, actually. There was a good chemistry there,” Trump said.