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Kushner denies any collusion with Russia

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

Obamacare

McCain says he'll return to Senate for healthcare vote

Sen. John McCain. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
Sen. John McCain. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is returning to the Senate on Tuesday to vote on GOP healthcare legislation just days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

McCain's office made the dramatic announcement late Monday in a brief statement.

Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Statement released by McCain's office

Republicans are holding a high-stakes vote on Tuesday to open debate on legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

They have almost no margin for error, making the presence of the 80-year-old McCain crucial if the vote is to succeed.

CongressWhite House

Trump slams GOP senators, 'dishonest' press, Obama and Clinton in a rambling speech to national Boy Scouts Jamboree

President Trump speaks during the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V., on Monday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V., on Monday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump took jabs at Republican senators, "dishonest" reporters, his predecessor and his 2016 election rival in a rambling and surprisingly partisan speech before about 30,000 Boy Scouts and their troop leaders Monday evening in West Virginia. 

In one aside during remarks to the National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V., the president asked, "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" Yet he launched into an extended a critique of Washington politics.

That included jibes at senators in his own party -- including by name the home state senator, Shelley Moore Capito -- who have balked at ending the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a still uncertain plan that would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid.

"I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp. In fact it's not a good place -- we should change it from the swamp to the cesspool or perhaps use the word sewer," he said.

Trump introduced several of his Cabinet members who had been Boy Scouts, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, there in Scout uniform; Energy Secretary Rick Perry' and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Price, the president said, "is going to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that's really hurting us."

 "You going to get the votes?" Trump asked Price. "He better get them," Trump told the enthusiastic youths. "Otherwise, I'm going to say, 'Tom, you're fired!'" 

He added, "You'd better get Sen. Capito to vote for it."

The Trump administration and Republican Senate leaders are pressing party colleagues to vote on Tuesday to allow debate on the House-passed healthcare measure so that they can then amend it with a different Senate version. They need at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators to consider the bill, a hurdle made more difficult with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

Trump praised the Scouts for their pledges to be trustworthy and loyal, and encouraged them to "never quit" and to "do something you love." But repeatedly he went off script to make political points.

"We could use some more loyalty, I could tell you that," Trump said of Republicans in Congress. Within the first minute he attacked the press -- "fake news" -- twice and came back to the subject of "these dishonest people" later.

Of his predecessor, Trump interjected, "By the way, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree? The answer's no." When he vowed to kill Obamacare, the crowd chanted, "USA! USA!"

Trump criticized Democratic election opponent Hillary Clinton and recalled at length the surprise of his victory on Nov. 8, boasting of how red he'd made the TV networks' maps of the states.

In one extended tangent that surely confused many Scouts, Trump described a long-ago cocktail party conversation with pioneering real estate developer William Levitt. Levitt was "a very successful man," Trump told the Scouts, but sold his business and "lost his momentum." Although Levitt is considered the architect of postwar American suburbia, he was also known for ensuring that properties were sold only to whites and non-Jews.

Doubts on Atty. Gen. Sessions' tenure deepen amid Trump tweets and White House comments

 (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions faced increasing questions about his future on Monday, a day that began with a fresh public slap from his boss,  President Trump, and continued with new calls to testify about his conversations with the Russian ambassador last year.

Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump and a strong influence during last year’s campaign, raised the president’s ire earlier this year with his decision to step aside from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible cooperation by people associated with the Trump campaign. 

Sessions acted on advice from the department’s ethics lawyers, who said he should not play a role in an investigation involving a campaign on which he worked. But in a startling interview with the New York Times last week, Trump said Sessions' decision to recuse was unfair to him, and he made it clear that he blamed Sessions for the fact that he is now facing a widening special counsel investigation.

Since then, things have gotten worse for the attorney general.

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted that Sessions was “beleaguered” and questioned why the Justice Department wasn’t doing more to investigate Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia.

Later in the day, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, did nothing to allay doubts about Sessions’ future, refusing to say in an interview whether Trump wants him to resign.

"They need to sit down face to face and have a reconciliation and a discussion of the future," he said in an interview with CNN. "They need to speak and determine what the future of the relationship looks like.”

Sessions visited the White House on Monday, sparking a quick flurry of speculation that he was about to resign or be fired.

But Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions was there for a standing Monday lunch meeting with White House Counsel Donald McGahn. The attorney general had a discussion with McGahn and Tom Price, the Health and Human Services secretary, she said.

Sessions did not see Trump, she said, and no meeting with the president has been scheduled.

Sessions said last week that he has no plans to step down, saying he loved his job and would stay as long as it was “appropriate.” Flores said Monday that hasn’t changed. She had no comment on Scaramucci’s interview or on Trump’s “beleaguered” comment.

CongressWhite House

Trump takes aim at Senate Republicans on healthcare

President Trump greets people he says were  "victims of Obamacare" at White House event on Monday. (Yuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump greets people he says were "victims of Obamacare" at White House event on Monday. (Yuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump made a late-hour attempt to pressure Republican senators to act this week to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

"For Senate Republicans, this is the time to keep their promise. So many times they said, 'repeal and replace,'" Trump said at a White House event carried live on cable television news channels, with people he said were "victims of Obamacare" arrayed behind him.

It was an unusual pitch, as a sitting president used the presidential bully pulpit to take his own party to task, at one point in mocking tones.

Republican Senate leaders are pressing party colleagues to vote on Tuesday to allow debate on the House-passed healthcare measure, so they can then amend it with a different Senate version. They need at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators to consider the bill, a hurdle made more difficult with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

"Any senator that votes against starting debate is saying they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is," Trump said.

The president stood in front of families he said had been hurt by increased premiums under the Affordable Care Act and by insurance companies withdrawing from state healthcare exchanges, and he condemned the existing program at length. But he made little affirmative case for a Republican alternative.

Trump said Democrats have provided "zero help" to come up with a solution to problems in the exchanges. 

He called Democrats "obstructionists" but also focused his fire on Republicans. "There's been more than enough talk and no action. Now is the time for action," he said.

RussiaWhite House

'I had no improper contacts,' Kushner says after speaking to senators about Russia and election meddling

President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner said Monday he "did not collude" with Russia and doesn't know of "anyone else in the campaign" who did.

Kushner, in a rare appearance before reporters at the White House, spoke within an hour of being interviewed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill by staff investigators of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia's meddling in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion.

"Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so," Kushner said, reading from a prepared statement.

"I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information," he added.

Kushner is to meet with both members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. His brief comments about his Senate session mostly repeated what he wrote in an 11-page statement he publicly released in advance of Monday's questioning.

That statement was Kushner's account of his contacts with Russians during the campaign and Trump's post-election transition. He described four meetings with Russian nationals. Two of those were with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Sergey Kislyak.

Kushner initially did not disclose the meetings as required on forms he submitted to get a government security clearance for his White House job. He has since revised those forms several times.

In his comments outside the West Wing, Kushner added a political note, echoing his father-in-law in insisting that Trump won the election because of his appeal to voters, not because of help from any foreign government.

"Donald Trump has a better message and ran a better campaign and that is why he won," Kushner said. "Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him." 

Officials frequently speak to reporters on camera from just outside the West Wing doors, but the White House provided an unusual bit of stagecraft for the presidential son-in-law. Kushner spoke at a lectern that had been set up with a White House seal affixed.

After reading his prepared remarks, Kushner turned stiffly and walked back into the West Wing. He did not respond to questions shouted by reporters behind him.

Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying that I was eager to share any information I have with the investigating bodies and I have done so today. The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a unique campaign.

Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.

Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law to Trump
Russia

Watch live: Jared Kushner to give a statement following hearing on Russia

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, will give a statement at 10:15 a.m. following a closed session hearing with investigators and Senate Intelligence Committee members over Russian meddling in the election. 

Early Monday, ahead of the hearing, Kushner's representatives released an 11-page statement in which he described four meetings he had with Russians, including two with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. He confirmed a report first published in the Washington Post that at a meeting in December, he had inquired about using a secure communications line at the Russian embassy to conduct talks with Russian officials.

>> READ THE FULL STATEMENT 

Kushner did not initially disclose any meetings with Russians on forms he submitted to get a government security clearance. He has since revised those forms several times.

CongressWhite House

Democrats unveil 'Better Deal' agenda as party tries to retake Trump's mantle on jobs, economy

Congressional Democrats launched a progressive-leaning economic agenda Monday as they try to wrestle the populist mantle from President Trump ahead of the 2018 midterm election.

Leaders of the House and Senate -- along with top lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) -- believe their "Better Deal" platform of higher wages, child care support and job training will appeal to working families and those who abandoned the party last year to elect Trump.

"In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there," wrote Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in an op-ed in the New York Times.

"We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake. This is the start of a new vision for the party."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed her criticism at Trump and Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, for spending their first six months of GOP control "trying to raise Americans’ health costs to fund tax breaks for billionaires."

"Democrats have a better approach," she wrote in the Washington Post. 

Democrats headed to rural Berryville, Va., which is just the kind of outside-the-Beltway swing district, now held by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, that Democrats hope to flip in the 2018 midterm.

Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to control the House, which some analysts believe is possible because the party in the White House tends to lose as many seats in midterm elections.

The "Better Deal" agenda is filled with the kind of populist rhetoric championed by Trump -- and progressive favorites Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- as it promises policies that aim to appeal to voter unrest over corporate "monopolies" and the "rigged" economy. It promises a government  "on the sides of all Americans, not just those at the top."

As the minority party, the plan is merely a blueprint for future governing, rather than a legislative to-do list.

Republicans, under Speaker Paul D. Ryan, presented a similar document last year -- "A Better Way" -- that was an aspirational check list of legislative goals to accomplish if in power.

Passing bills is a heavier political lift, but both parties use such documents as calling cards in the run up to the campaigns ahead.

"The feeling is that this is what we should be talking about," said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), part of the team that helped draft the document.

Bustos is that rare Democrat, among 12 in the House, who represents a district where voters elected Trump but also gave the Democrat another term in Congress. 

"They feel like folks in Washington see this whole thing as a game -- winners and losers -- at the expense of people back home," she said in an interview. "People have the feeling that things are stacked against them."

She added: "It's our message to build an America where working people know we have their back."

'I did not collude' with foreign officials, Jared Kushner says in advance of testimony

 (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)

"I did not collude" and "had no improper contacts" with Russia or any other foreign government, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, declared Monday.

Kushner's representatives released the statement early Monday morning. Later in the day, he met with investigators and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In the statement, Kushner described four meetings he had with Russians, including two with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. He confirmed a report first published in the Washington Post that at a meeting in December, he had inquired about using a secure communications line at the Russian embassy to conduct talks with Russian officials.

Kushner did not initially disclose any meetings with Russians on forms he submitted to get a government security clearance. He has since revised those forms several times.

According to Kushner, the topic of secure communications came up after Kislyak asked if there was a secure line in the Trump transition office for a discussion about Syria between Trump transition officials and Russian generals.

Kushner said he suggested using a communications channel at the Russian embassy, but he denied the suggestion that he was trying to set up a secret back channel for communications between Trump advisors and the Kremlin.

Kushner did not say why he would not have used U.S. government secure communications for the discussion Kislyak wanted to have.

After Kislyak said using embassy facilities was not possible, they agreed to follow up after the inauguration, Kushner said.

"Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a 'secret back channel.' I did not suggest an ongoing secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office," Kushner said.

He did not discuss lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak, Kushner added.

"I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period. We did not discuss sanctions."

Kushner said he also did not discuss sanctions at a Dec. 13 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank. He had the meeting at Kislyak’s urging because Gorkov had a "direct relationship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

"I did not know or have any contact with Mr. Gorkov before that meeting, and I have had no reason to connect with him since," Kushner wrote.

Kushner also said he had not “relied on Russian funds” to finance his real estate business.

"I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector," he said.

Later this week, Kushner is scheduled to meet with the House Intelligence Committee. Both panels are investigating Russian actions to sway the 2016 election in Donald Trump's favor and whether any people associated with the Trump campaign cooperated in that effort.

The Senate panel plans two days of closed-door questioning of Kushner as part of its investigation.

Separately, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort are expected to be interviewed by investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting its own probe. Those meetings will be behind closed doors, but the two are expected to testify publicly at some point, Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said last week.

Kushner also described a June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have information damaging to Hillary Clinton.

The session was a "waste of our time," he said. No information about Clinton or the Democrats was discussed during the part of the meeting he attended, Kushner said, although he said he arrived late and left early.

Kushner said he knew nothing about the purpose of the meeting to which he had been invited by Trump Jr., his brother-in-law.

He said he did not read the lengthy email chain that Trump Jr. forwarded to him before the meeting. In those emails, the friend of Trump Jr.'s who set up the meeting said a Russian lawyer would deliver derogatory information about Clinton as part of Russia's efforts to help Trump.

Once he arrived at the meeting and determined it was a poor use of his time, he sent a message to an assistant asking that someone call him on his cell phone to give him an excuse to leave, Kushner said.

He only became aware of the emails in recent weeks when his lawyers found them while going through his records, he said.

"No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted," he wrote.

In addition to that meeting and the two in December, Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, said he had only one other meeting with a Russian during the campaign or transition. That was a brief encounter with Kislyakat a reception in the spring of 2016.

The meeting was so unmemorable, he said, that after the election, when Trump received a congratulatory message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kushner was asked to authenticate it, he had to ask someone to remind him of the ambassador's name.

He disputed a report by the Reuters news agency that he had two telephone calls with Kislyak, saying he had no recollection of that, and his lawyers had found no record of such calls.

Kushner also offered an explanation for having initially submitted a federal form for a security clearance that did not report his meetings with Russians or other foreigners, something the form specifically asks for.

He said his assistant had misunderstood a message from other staff members and had believed the form was complete when it was still just a draft. The assistant submitted the form, known as an SF-86, erroneously, he said, adding that his office had submitted updated information detailing his foreign contacts before that became the subject of news reports. 

9:25 a.m.: This post was updated with Kushner's arrival to meet with senators and with additional information.

Trump still harbors doubts about Russian hacking, new White House communications director says

 (Albin Lohr-Jones / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Albin Lohr-Jones / European Pressphoto Agency)

President Trump still isn’t convinced that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election, his new communications director says, despite the conclusions of the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that an unidentified person had recently told him that if the Kremlin had in fact interfered, the United States would not have been able to detect the activity.

Pressed as to the identity of the person holding that opinion, Scaramucci said it was Trump.

“He called me from Air Force One,” said Scaramucci. “And he basically said to me, 'Hey, you know, this is — maybe they did it. Maybe they didn’t do it.'” 

The U.S. intelligence community stated definitively in January that Russia was behind attempts to hack Democratic Party emails and influence the election in Trump’s favor.

Whether his campaign aides colluded in that effort is the subject of a widening criminal investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as well as multiple inquiries in Congress.

Scaramucci, a former Wall Street hedge fund magnate who was named to Trump's staff on Friday, said he has not yet obtained a security clearance to see classified information.

He said if he sees information in the future that convinced him that Russia had meddled in the election, he would not hesitate to tell the president.

In a series of Sunday talk show appearances, Scaramucci was also asked if Trump might pardon himself and family members and other associates if they were suspected of or found to have taken part in illegal activities. The president raised the issue Saturday in a statement on Twitter that he had an absolute right to issue pardons. 

Asked on CNN if Trump was thinking of pardoning himself, Scaramucci called that a “another one of those stupid hypotheticals.”

“He’s not going to have to pardon himself because he’s done absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.

A senior member of Trump’s personal legal team, Jay Sekulow, made a similar assertion.

Sekulow, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” said the issue of a presidential self-pardon has “never been adjudicated” in court because no president has ever issued one.

But he said that was irrelevant.

“Pardons are not on the table … there’s nothing to pardon from,” he said.

 

Russia, Iran sanctions deal is said to clear way for House vote

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said revised legislation for sanctions was “the product of intense negotiations.” (Associated Press)
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said revised legislation for sanctions was “the product of intense negotiations.” (Associated Press)

Republican and Democratic leaders in the House appear to have reached a deal on a bill that would sharply limit President Trump's ability to suspend or terminate sanctions on Russia.

If the bill ultimately passes, Trump would face a difficult choice — whether to veto a bill and fuel concerns that he is aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin while the FBI is investigating allegations of collusion with Moscow, or sign legislation that his administration strongly opposes.

The agreement to fix procedural concerns, add sanctions against North Korea and modify restrictions on the participation of U.S. energy companies in some international projects, clears the way for a House vote next week.

A version of the bill released by House Republican leaders follows passage of a Senate bill in June that would prohibit U.S. businesses from working on or supporting energy projects that include any participation by Russian companies, even outside Russia’s borders.

The House version would set a threshold for Russian involvement, applying that restriction to projects where sanctioned Russian entities have at least a 33% interest.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the revised legislation was “the product of intense negotiations.”

With the changes, “a nearly united Congress is poised to send [Russian] President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” Cardin said in a statement.

The legislation follows U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessments that Russia sought to influence the U.S. presidential election last year and tilt it toward Trump.

A special counsel and several congressional committees are investigating whether there was any collusion with Trump’s campaign.

The measure gained urgency as evidence emerged in recent weeks that members of Trump’s family and several top aides were in contact with Russians during the campaign last year. 

White House officials asked lawmakers this month to reconsider the Russia provisions that the Senate added to an Iran sanctions bill that passed 98-2.

The new version also will include sanctions against North Korea, modeled after language that passed the House 419-1 in May and hasn’t been taken up by the Senate.

If the House passes the modified sanctions package, the Senate will have to hold another vote on the legislation that would now punish North Korea, Iran and Russia.

Could Trump pardon himself? No president ever has, and legal opinions are mixed

 (Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)

It's not rare for presidents to dole out pardons. They’ve pardoned friends and felons, political donors and even a former president.

But can a president pardon himself? Well, we’ve now reached that question, six months into President Trump’s administration.

As a special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia continues, reports have surfaced in recent days that the president has inquired about pardoning family members and even whether he can give himself a pardon. Trump, in a report first published by the Washington Post, has questioned aides about the scope of his pardoning powers.

But could this happen? Here are some answers:

RussiaWhite House

Trump tweets that the president 'has complete power to pardon'

President Trump, in one of a long string of Saturday morning tweets venting various frustrations, confirmed that he is pondering presidential pardons related to the probe into his campaign's potential collusion with Russia.

In the tweet, Trump said a president "has complete power to pardon," suggesting he believes he can pardon himself, or is at least not ruling it out.  

There are mixed opinions as to whether the law would allow him to pardon himself.

But, he added, "why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us," using all caps a second time to complain about "FAKE NEWS."

In claiming not to be thinking about pardons, Trump revealed that he does indeed have them on his mind. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump has discussed pardons of close associates, and even himself, with staff in recent days.

Trump's tweets underscored his growing concern about the Russia investigation and frustration with the media that is reporting it. 

Trump also complained that Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into Russian election meddling, are not investigating Hillary Clinton and James Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI director, and lambasted the Washington Post and New York Times.

It's likely that the tweets were not vetted by his staff or attorneys. He misspelled counsel as "council."

No public testimony next week for Trump Jr. and Manafort

Donald Trump Jr. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Donald Trump Jr. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, will not testify publicly next week under a deal worked out Friday with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The two will meet with committee members and staff privately, the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), announced. Grassley said they were still expected to give public testimony later.

Grassley said that another witness, Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, an investigative firm based in Washington, would be subpoenaed after declining to testify.

Simpson's firm hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to look into reports that Russian intelligence held compromising information about Trump. Steele produced a lengthy dossier of reported kompromat, which became public shortly before Trump's inauguration.

Trump has denied the accusations in the dossier.

Simpson's attorney has said he would resist the subpoena, arguing that the committee's questions would violate his client's 1st Amendment rights as well as his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Pentagon holds back $50 million from Pakistan for not pursuing Taliban network

Defense Secretary James Mattis (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Defense Secretary James Mattis (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The Pentagon will withhold $50 million in reimbursements to Pakistan because it was unable to verify that Islamabad conducted adequate counter-terrorism operations against the Haqqani network, a hard-line branch of the Taliban, officials said Friday. 

The decision comes as the Trump administration considers a tougher stance against Pakistan, an ostensible ally, as part of a new military strategy for the nearly 16-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Despite the $50-million cut, Pakistan received $550 million in U.S. aid in the last fiscal year for operations against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, a rugged northwest region where the central government has limited control.

“This is simply an assessment on the current state of play,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told a Pentagon news conference. "We're just defining the reality."

Washington has urged Pakistan to step up counter-terrorism operations against the Haqqani network for more than a decade with limited success.

The militants use Pakistan's rugged tribal regions as sanctuary to launch assaults on U.S. and allied troops battling Taliban fighters across the border in Afghanistan. 

Under U.S. law, the secretary of Defense is required to certify that Pakistan has taken aggressive action against the Haqqani network. Last year, the Pentagon held back $300 million in funds for not pursuing the group.

The United States reimburses foreign governments for the cost of military operations against certain militant groups under a program called the Coalition Support Fund.

Pakistan has been the largest beneficiary, taking in more than $14 billion since 2002.

“Pakistan's efforts have reduced the ability of some militant groups to use North Waziristan and the FATA as a safe haven for terrorism,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. “However, the Taliban and the Haqqani network continue to operate in other locations in Pakistan.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, said in a statement that it “is a well-known fact that Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts have resulted in a significant decline in terrorists attacks.”

Without naming the Haqqani network, he pointed to Pakistan's recent counter-terror operations aimed at routing militant groups from the tribal areas.

"Pakistan has been a victim of terrorism and has paid a staggering human and financial cost over the past decade,” he said.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have been fraught for years, and nose-dived after U.S. Navy Seals secretly flew into the country in 2011 and killed Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town for the Pakistani military. 

The Haqqanis have been a potent fighting force for years and U.S. officials believe they played a role in the Taliban's recent resurgence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban holds more ground in Afghanistan today than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, according to recent U.N. estimates.

The Haqqani network dates back to the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani organized fighters against Soviet troops that then occupied Afghanistan. He had links with Pakistani intelligence and the CIA, which both supported anti-Soviet militias.

Haqqani reportedly died in 2014, though it’s never been confirmed. His son Sirajuddin now leads the group. 

The CIA launched thousands of drone strikes along the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. 

U.S. officials believe those attacks killed numerous Haqqani leaders and forced its operatives into hiding, hampering the group's ability to carry out attacks. 

The CIA drone strikes, which were widely unpopular in Pakistan, largely stopped by late last year. They have resumed under President Trump as Afghanistan has suffered an alarming increase in terrorist attacks, especially in Kabul, the capital. 

U.S. officials believe the Haqqanis were behind a massive bombing in Kabul that killed nearly 100 people in May. The group has not claimed responsibility, however. 

White House

New White House communications chief thanks Sean Spicer, who quit over the appointment

I want to thank personally Sean Spicer, not only on behalf of myself, the president, the administration, but Sean is a true American patriot. He is a military serviceman. He's got a great family, and he's done an amazing job. This is obviously a difficult situation to be in, and I applaud his efforts here, and I love the guy and I wish him well. And I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money. 

Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's new communications director, whose appointment Sean Spicer reportedly resigned over
White House

Trump keeps focus on 'fake' news

White House

President Trump's statement on Sean Spicer's resignation

I am grateful for Sean's work on behalf of my administration and the American people. I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities.  Just look at his great television ratings. Sean will continue to serve the administration through August. 
 

Donald Trump

Watch live: White House's first news briefing after Press Secretary Sean Spicer's resignation

White House

The Sean Spicer show comes to an end

Sean Spicer conducts a White House news briefing in May. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Sean Spicer conducts a White House news briefing in May. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

With White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying farewell, here's a look back at his greatest hits (and misses).

Sean Spicer out as White House press secretary

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has resigned, it was announced Friday.

The decision came after President Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as communications director.

In a Twitter statement, Spicer said he will leave the White House in August.

For months, Spicer's daily news briefings were must-see television although he took on a more behind-the-scenes role in recent weeks. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, with most of them taking place off-camera. 

Spicer hasn’t given a news briefing since June 23.

Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with his administration’s agenda being overshadowed by the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and what he sees as the inability of the White House communications team to counter the steady drip of damaging headlines linking his campaign to the Russian government.

In recent weeks, Spicer has born the brunt of the president’s ire. Trump has told close advisors that Spicer had been beaten into submission by the press, according to a person close to Trump, and was no longer able to punch back forcefully enough.

Those concerns came to a head this week, as Spicer continued to be absent from the podium, and Scaramucci’s name was floated as someone who could jab and parry more effectively with the media.

Spicer was an ally of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for whom he worked when Priebus headed the Republican National Committee.

Trump has admired Scaramucci's defense of him on television. But Preibus and White House strategist Steve Bannon were reported to have opposed Scaramucci's appointment.

Spicer's out. At least we have the memories

UPDATE

9:47 a.m.: This post was updated throughout with additional details and background.

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