Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

A look at President Trump's administration and the rest of Washington:

Among Republicans, Trump is more popular than congressional leaders

 (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Amid strain between the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, the White House holds the high ground, a new survey indicates.

Among Republicans, President Trump has greater popularity than the party's congressional leaders. Asked specifically who they would trust if the two sides disagreed, most Republicans chose Trump over their party's leadership.

The findings, from a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center underscore Trump's continued sway with the Republican congressional majority. Although the president has historically low job approval ratings among the public at large, he remains highly popular among Republican partisans and in Republican districts.

As for Democrats, they're strongly in an oppositional mood. Asked if they were more worried that Democrats in Congress would go too far in opposing Trump or not go far enough, more than 70% of Democrats said they feared their party would not go far enough. Only 20% said they worried the party would go too far.

Republicans in Congress have eyed Trump warily on several fronts. His positions on trade and entitlement reform break with years of the party's positions. His reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin has generated tension. And the administration's lack of clarity on healthcare and tax policy have Republican leaders guessing which way to turn on major issues.

But Republican partisans have fewer reservations than their elected representatives. Eighty-six percent to 13%, those who identify as Republicans or as independents who lean Republican have a favorable view of Trump, the Pew survey found.

By comparison, 57% have a favorable view of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, with 22% unfavorable and 21% having no opinion. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is slightly better known, with 65% of Republicans holding a favorable view, 23% an unfavorable view and 13% having no opinion.

Asked who they would trust if the two sides disagreed, 52% of Republicans said they would side with Trump and 34% with the Republicans in Congress. Republicans younger than 40 were the only major exception; 52% to 36%, they said they would side with Congress.

At the same time, Republican partisans now have a warmer opinion of their party leadership than they had during most of President Obama's tenure.

During the Obama years, GOP partisans tended to be frustrated that their side could not reverse the president's initiatives, even with a majority in the House, starting in 2010, and then in the Senate for Obama's last two years. Their view of the GOP leadership has rebounded strongly since the election.

Democrats' view of their congressional leadership has been more stable. And both sides widely dislike the other party's leaders.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court rejects use of 'racial stereotypes' in death penalty cases

Supreme Court (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Supreme Court (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The Supreme Court rejected the use of "racial stereotypes" in death penalty cases Wednesday, reopening the case of a black man in Texas who was sentenced to die after his jury was told African Americans are more likely than whites to commit crimes.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said this testimony had no place in a sentencing hearing and "appealed to the racial stereotype that black men are prone to violence."

"Our laws punish people for what they do, not for who they are," the chief justice said in the courtroom.

The 6-2 decision faults Texas authorities for refusing to give a new sentencing hearing to Duane Buck, a Houston man who was convicted of shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend and seriously injuring her new boyfriend in 1995.

Buck was found guilty of murder, but when his jury was debating his fate, his court-appointed defense attorney put on the witness stand an expert who cited statistics showing blacks are more likely to commit future crimes than whites.

After hearing this testimony, the jury decided to sentence Buck to death.

Years later, Texas state attorneys set aside the death sentences for six other black defendants whose juries heard similar testimony, but they refused to reopen Buck's case.

In Buck vs. Davis, the high court said that was a mistake. The jury was deciding "the question of life or death," and this is no place for the introduction of a "particularly noxious strain of racial prejudice," Roberts said.

The court sent the case back to judges in Texas to reconsider the death sentence.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, along with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Thomas said Buck was properly sentenced to die for a brutal murder, and he insisted the court should not have heard the case for procedural reasons. "Having settled on a desired outcome, the court bulldozes procedural obstacles and misapplies settled law to justify it," he wrote.

At Rep. Tony Cárdenas' town hall, Democrats worry about what Donald Trump may do

 (Kurtis Lee/Los Angeles Times)
(Kurtis Lee/Los Angeles Times)

They arrived with soggy jackets, hats and umbrellas.

The topic was supposed to be the Affordable Care Act. But many who attended Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas' town hall meeting Tuesday night in a crammed auditorium at the Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies came with a question: What can we  -- as Democrats -- do to help you?

“Show up and vote,” said Cárdenas, who represents a slice of the staunchly liberal San Fernando Valley. (Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in this district by nearly 60-percentage points in the fall election.)

“Sign people up, get people involved,” he said.

At times the meeting had the feel of a therapy session for Democrats, wondering aloud how to function under a Trump administration.

“Where is the anger among Democrats?” asked one man. “I want to see more anger.”

Cárdenas, standing at a lectern on an elevated stage, offered a stern look and nodded in agreement as rain could be heard splattering on the roof above.

The complaints included Republicans' efforts to repeal Obamacare and Trump’s new immigration mandates.

“Trust me, I’m pissed. I’m upset,” Cardenas said. “But we have to act constructively. We have to be responsible.”

Last month, Trump signed executive orders directing the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of people in the U.S. illegally who have criminal convictions.

In addition to speeding up the deportation of convicts, Trump’s orders also call for quick removal of people in the country illegally who are charged with crimes and waiting for adjudication.

And in recent days, a handful of people who have received protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents nationwide.

Cárdenas said that for him, the issue is personal. His parents were immigrants from Mexico, who lived in the San Fernando Valley for decades, raising 11 children, he said. Today his district is nearly 70% Latino.

“I’m going to fight for you,” he said. “I’m going to fight for the people who are my immigrant father.”

When a young man, a DACA recipient, asked him, via Twitter, if he’ll be safe in the weeks ahead, Cárdenas seemed at a loss.

“I pray that [Trump] doesn’t go after you,” he said.

Killing with kindness, GOP's McClintock faces down hostile questioners as town hall goes into overtime

 (Mark Z. Barabak/Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Z. Barabak/Los Angeles Times)

The last time Rep. Tom McClintock held a town hall meeting, earlier this month in the Sacramento suburbs, he left under police escort.

His session Tuesday night in Mariposa, a small tourist way station on the road to Yosemite, drew plenty of barbed questions, criticizing the five-term GOP congressman and attacking President Trump.

But the more than half dozen California Highway Patrol officers arrayed around the auditorium at the fairground hardly seemed necessary.

McClintock ceded no ground on his deeply conservative beliefs and staunchly and repeatedly defended the president -- often to jeers and catcalls.

But even some of the harshest questions McClintock faced were prefaced with thanks for his willingness to show up early and stay late. Many of his GOP colleagues have ducked such confrontations, refusing their constituents' requests.

"God bless all of you for being here," he said at one point, after a woman in the audience said the huge turnout -- about 900 people -- was a show of resistance to Trump. (In fact, about a third or so of the crowd appeared strongly supportive of the president.)

It is highly doubtful if any minds were changed during the session, which went more than an hour past schedule.

But in the end, McClintock managed to outlast many of his inquisitors. By the time he took his last question, after more than two hours and 20 minutes, the hall was close to half empty.

Florida congressman finds hostile crowd at town hall

An overflow crowd awaits Dennis Ross at a town hall in Clermont, Fla. (John Cherwa / Los Angeles Times)
An overflow crowd awaits Dennis Ross at a town hall in Clermont, Fla. (John Cherwa / Los Angeles Times)

Florida Rep. Dennis A. Ross learned on Tuesday that winning an election with 58% of the vote is no indication of how the crowd will shape up at a town hall.

Appearing before about 250 people and one comfort dog, Ross dodged questions, catcalls and boos.

The Republican answered 21 questions in the 56 minutes he stood before the crowd, pacing back and forth over a large water stain that adorned the carpet at the Clermont City Center.

Most of the constituents posed adversarial questions. Three offered their support (one wished that God bless both Ross and President Trump).

The main topics had a familiar sound to them: keeping the Affordable Care Act, not cutting Social Security benefits, opposing the travel ban and protecting the environment.

Ross stuck to the party script except to say that he didn’t always condone “or defend what the president is saying or tweeting.”

Ross has been a strong supporter of President Trump and attended his rally in Melbourne, Fla., last week. He also served on Trump’s transition team.

Ross was swept into office in 2010 as part of the tea party movement.

The last question -- from a Trump critic -- had three parts: Ross was asked about the expense to taxpayers when the president spends weekends at Mar-a-Lago, the U.S.’ ties to Russia and Trump’s still unseen tax returns.

“This is the first anyone has brought that to my attention,” Ross said of the reported $10 million that it has cost to shuttle Trump between Florida and Washington three times.

The boos were hearty and long, drowning out the rest of Ross’ answer. The congressman was then hustled out the back door to the continual chant of “Do your job.”

A town hall in Savannah, Ga., tests its reputation for civility

 (Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)
(Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)

The boos began as soon as Rep. Buddy Carter, a two-term Republican representing a staunchly conservative stretch of coastal Georgia, tried to present his plans to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“You know about the promises and you know about the reality,” Carter told constituents who packed a town hall meeting in Savannah on Tuesday, noting that healthcare premiums had gone up by $4,300 for the average family. "Look, folks, Obamacare is collapsing."

“You collapsed it!” one man in the audience shot back as the crowd roared.

More than 300 people, many wearing Planned Parenthood T-shirts and waving pink and purple paper hearts, squeezed into an auditorium at Armstrong College for the standing-room-only event. Outside, scores more chanted, "Let us in!"

Throughout, the meeting tested this traditional Southern town’s reputation for gentility, with some members of the crowd jeering and crying, “Shame on you!" while others pleaded for quiet.

“If you’ve got something to say, use your manners and raise your hand,” one Trump supporter burst out.

“Why don’t YOU raise your hand?” a man across the room hollered back.

The crowd’s concerns ran the gamut from rising sea levels and Russia’s influence in U.S. politics to abortion access, President Trump’s attacks on the news media and the teaching of religion in public schools. Some needled Carter for his support of Trump, with one man asking if he stood by a president who had not released his tax returns.

“I am not here to tell you Donald Trump is perfect,” Carter responded. “I am not going to tell you I agree with everything he has done. Those of you who have studied the Bible know that God has used imperfect people to do great things.”

Yet it was Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act that caused the most ire. A local owner of a small jewelry business told Carter that if the act had not been in effect when he had major abdominal surgery a few years ago, he may have had to lay off an employee.

“Look, for every story like this there are 20 stories that are just the opposite,” said Carter, a pharmacist. As Republicans developed a more affordable and accessible healthcare alternative, the new plan would be rolled out incrementally, he said. Health coverage would not be denied because of preexisting conditions, he added.

“These are divisive times,” Carter finally admitted, reminding his audience that “we live in the greatest country in the world.” But even that could not bring agreement. The meeting ended with a chorus of “No!”

Supreme Court justices appear split over whether Constitution extends to Mexican teenager shot across the border

Maria Guadalupe Guereca, 60, visits the grave of son Sergio Hernandez at the Jardines del Recuerdo cemetery in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Yuri Cortez / AFP-Getty Images)
Maria Guadalupe Guereca, 60, visits the grave of son Sergio Hernandez at the Jardines del Recuerdo cemetery in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Yuri Cortez / AFP-Getty Images)

The Supreme Court justices debated border shootings and drone strikes Tuesday in a case that could preview the legal battle over President Trump’s proposed ban on foreign travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries.

But the eight justices sounded evenly split over whether the parents of a Mexican teenager can sue the U.S. border agent who shot and killed him as he stood on the Mexican side of the border.

At issue is whether the Mexican family can invoke the Constitution’s protections against excessive force and for due process of law to restrain the conduct of the American agent, or whether U.S. law stops at the border.

Immigration White House

Sweeping new immigration guidelines emphasize more enforcement, deportations

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. (Associated Press)
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. (Associated Press)

Immigration enforcement officers are free to target any of the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally for removal, the Trump administration said Tuesday, a vast expansion of the federal government's deportation priorities as the president pursues his promised crackdown on illegal immigration.

The new guidelines , in two memos issued by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, also call for the hiring of thousands more enforcement agents as the agency moves to implement President Trump's executive order on immigration issued during his first week in office.

"All of those in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States," the department wrote on its website.

Though the guidelines emphasized that authorities should focus on convicted criminals or those charged with crimes, immigration groups reacted with alarm to what they described a radical shift in policy and enforcement tactics.

“These memos lay out a detailed blueprint for the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in America," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, an advocacy group. "These memos amount to an instruction manual for the coast-to-coast, fast-track deportation of everyone in the United States without papers, no matter how long they’ve been here, how strong their family ties, and how much they contribute."

Under the Obama administration, officials took a far less aggressive stance on immigration, despite deporting a record number of migrants, by focusing on those who were either convicted of multiple offenses or had repeatedly entered the country illegally.

The memos did not specify how the Trump administration plans to deal with 750,000 so-called Dreamers, migrants brought to the country illegally as children and granted work permits, a key Obama administration program.

Trump has publicly wavered on whether to deport the Dreamers, and the White House has identified ways to remove them from the U.S. without Trump's fingerprints.

The instructions also expand so-called expedited deportations, under which someone who is in the U.S. illegally is detained and thrown out without appearing before an immigration judge. Such deportations, which were limited by the Obama administration to people caught within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks of entering, now include people caught anywhere in the country within two years of arriving illegally.

In addition, the guidelines call for hiring 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents and for the immediate planning and building of a wall along the southern border, all of which Trump ordered earlier.

Those steps would require additional funds from Congress, and it is unclear whether Republican lawmakers will sign off on them.

Kelly's memos also called for the expansion of a program in which local police help capture those violating immigration laws.

Homeland Security will also establish an office to assist those who are victims of crimes committed by those in the country illegally, according to the memos.

Trump administration officials said they were fulfilling the pledge of the president who promised more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws and are also reacting in response to a spike of illegal border crossings.

"A surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States," Kelly wrote in one of the memos, adding that immigration courts are experiencing "a historic backlog of removal cases."

In October and November, the Obama administration apprehended more than 90,000 immigrants along the southern border, an increase of about 42% over the same period in 2015, according to Kelly.

Scott Pruitt tries to calm a rattled EPA workforce

Even as the newly installed Environmental Protection Agency chief sought to calm employees anxious about his longtime opposition to the agency, Scott Pruitt managed to rattle them a little more.

Concerns about the direction he will take the EPA grew with publication over the weekend of his first interview as agency chief.

During it, he suggested to the Wall Street Journal that the EPA, which has taken the lead in federal efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, may not even be equipped to be playing much of a role at all.

He left open the possibility that the agency will look for leadership on global warming from the GOP Congress, where there has been a persistent opposition to meaningful climate action and mainstream climate science.

During his first agency-wide address Tuesday, Pruitt focused on his favorite themes of federalism, the need for predictability among regulated industries and the dangers of agency overreach. But he also sought to reassure the staff by remarking repeatedly about how much he values its work.

He expressed admiration for the many employees he met during his first meetings at the headquarters who have been with the agency for decades.

“You can’t lead unless you can listen,” Pruitt said. “I seek to listen, learn and lead with you.” But he also bemoaned the “toxic” nature of modern politics.

Conservatives have accused the EPA of taking actions outside the rule of law in pursuit of a liberal environmental agenda. That’s not how many employees of the 15,000-person agency view their work over the last several years. Their relationship with the new boss is certain to be tense. Just before Pruitt was confirmed Friday, 773 former employees signed a letter urging the Senate to reject him.

On Monday, Greenwire reported that Pruitt, a frequent target of protesters, is requesting round-the-clock security protection from the Secret Service. The protests may only intensify as Pruitt sets about dismantling the last administration’s work on the environment.

“John Muir is rolling over in his grave at the notion of someone as toxic to the environment as Scott Pruitt taking over the EPA,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said after Tuesday's speech.

Media Watch On the Right

What's going on in Sweden?

 (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

What’s going on in Sweden?

If you ask President Trump, it’s absolute chaos.

“You look at what's happening last night in Sweden,” Trump, at a rally in Florida on Saturday, said about the Scandinavian country that has accepted large numbers of refugees. “Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.”

Actually, not much happened in Sweden on Friday night. But Monday night, riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant suburb of Stockholm, ensuring that Sweden was in for another cycle through the conservative news spin machine.

Here are some of today’s headlines:

Riots in Sweden. Cars ablaze, rocks thrown after arrest in migrant area (Fox News)

In the hours after a man was arrested for suspected drug charges, violence erupted on Monday evening in Rinkeby, a suburb of Stockholm that has experienced a large influx of refugees. No injuries were reported, yet the headline – prominently displayed on the home page -- does make it appear there was a major disturbance in the area.

The article notes that Trump had been “mocked” for his comments about Sweden days before, and goes on to cite recent crime reports on the country:

“Reports of rapes in Sweden jumped 13% in 2016 compared to the previous year, and reports of sexual assaults were up 20%, according to preliminary data from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.”

There was no linkage made in that report, however, between crime statistics and the presence of refugees in the country.

Breitbart led its website with the headline Sweden: Looting, cars torched,police attacked as riots break out in migrant suburb

“Riots broke out on Monday night in the suburb of Rinkeby, where a majority of residents were born overseas, just hours after the country’s Prime Minister attacked U.S President Donald J. Trump for linking mass migration with rising violence in Sweden,” says the lede of its story, alluding to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who said Monday that facts matter when discussing Trump’s comments about his country.

In other conservative news:

Another Trump campaign rival is making pilgrimage to White House (Daily Caller)

President Trump regularly reminiscences about the 2016 campaign.

Now he’s making an effort to meet with former GOP adversaries.

In the past month, he’s dined with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). This week, Trump is set to meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Oval Office.

Kasich consistently castigated Trump throughout the Republican primaries and into the general election.

He refused to endorse Trump after he secured the Republican nomination. He boycotted the Republican National Convention in July even though it was in his home state and wrote in Sen. John McCain on his absentee ballot last fall, notes the article.

Trump and the media (American Spectator)

Alas, it seems to be a daily battle.

During the general election, Trump’s prime enemies were Hillary Clinton and the media. Now it’s just the media – some of which he asserts is nothing more than “fake news.” (It is, of course, not new for presidents to battle the press , but Trump does take it to another level.)

“Trump is not wholly right about the “fakeness” of the news he delights in castigating. He is not wholly wrong either,” writes William Murchison.

The piece seeks to find common ground between the media (which often does tilt liberal) and the president.

“The major media’s liberalism — brighter, smokier than in Vietnam-Watergate days — is a problem more intense than when Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, at Richard Nixon’s bidding, lit into the media’s ‘nattering nabobs of negativism,’” he writes.

White House

Trump, after failing to denounce anti-Semitism, calls threats to Jews 'horrible' and 'painful'

President Trump, under pressure for his reluctance to address a recent spike in anti-Semitic threats, condemned them in forceful terms Tuesday during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

Trump spoke effusively about his tour of the new African American museum on the National Mall, calling it a "meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms."

He linked that lesson to bomb threats lodged against dozens of Jewish community centers around the country in recent weeks .

"The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil," he continued.

The comments came shortly after a tweet by his former rival, Hillary Clinton, calling on Trump to speak out.

Trump grew defensive when asked about the subject during a news conference last week, calling a question about how the government would respond "insulting" and telling an Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked it to sit down.

Trump reacted as though the allegation of anti-Semitism was directed at him, even though the reporter who asked it emphasized that it was not.

"I hate the charge," Trump said. "I find it repulsive."

White House

Trump names H.R. McMaster, an Army strategist, as his new national security advisor

H.R. McMaster, left, is President Trump's new national security advisor. At right is Keith Kellogg, who will serve as McMaster's chief of staff. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP-Getty Images)
H.R. McMaster, left, is President Trump's new national security advisor. At right is Keith Kellogg, who will serve as McMaster's chief of staff. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP-Getty Images)

President Trump named Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security advisor Monday, replacing Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign last week.

McMaster, a career Army officer and strategist, is known as one of the military's most prominent intellectuals.

"He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him," Trump said of McMaster in making the announcement while seated in the living room at Mar-a-Lago, his estate here, between a uniformed McMaster and Keith Kellogg, who had been interim national security advisor.

Kellogg will return to his previous role as chief of staff to the jobholder, now McMaster.

McMaster will take over a National Security Council that is short on staff and the subject of reports of internal turmoil. The president's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, was given a seat on the council, a highly unusual move for a political appointee.

Bannon was an architect of the temporary ban on entry into the U.S. for refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries whose ad hoc rollout sowed chaos at airports around the country before it was stopped by the courts. Trump is expected to order a revised travel ban as soon as this week.

Flynn's ouster came after reports emerged that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions in December with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about impending sanctions by the Obama administration over its conclusion that Russia had meddled in the election.

McMaster has served since July 2014 as director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Ft. Eustis in Virginia.

He is perhaps best known as the author of a 1997 book, "Dereliction of Duty," that explores the military's responsibility for U.S. failure during the Vietnam War.

"What a privilege it is to be able to continue serving our nation," McMaster said alongside Trump. "I'm grateful to you for that opportunity, and I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."

Trump also said that John R. Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, who also interviewed for the job, will serve the administration in an unspecified capacity.

1:01 p.m.: The story was updated with comment from McMaster.

White House

Pence 'disappointed' by Flynn but supports Trump's handling of ouster

Vice President Mike Pence said Monday he was “disappointed” to learn he had been misled by Michael Flynn, the ousted national security advisor, but that he believed President Trump handled the situation correctly.

Pence’s comment, made during a visit to Brussels, was his first public reaction to Flynn’s forced resignation a week ago.

Before Trump took office, Pence, based on Flynn’s assurances, went on national television to assert that Flynn had not discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak, in December. It emerged that Flynn had in fact done so.

“I was disappointed to learn that the facts that had been conveyed to me by Gen. Flynn were inaccurate,” the vice president said at a joint news conference with the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.

He added: “I fully support the president’s decision to ask for his resignation” but praised Flynn's service to the country.

Pence was not told about the discrepancy in Flynn’s account until weeks after the White House was informed by the Justice Department that intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador did not back up his claims.

The vice president did not directly address a reporter’s question as to whether he felt “left out of the loop” because of that time lag, and whether he had been assured by Trump’s team that something like that wouldn’t happen again.

“I’m very grateful for the close working relationship I have with the president,” Pence said. Trump’s decision, he said, “was handled properly, and in a timely way.”

The vice president was in Brussels as part of a concerted effort in recent days to calm European officials alarmed over Trump’s professed affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the extent of Trump's backing for European institutions such as the EU, which is based in Brussels.

Pence, following a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, expressed the “strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union.”

Tusk thanked him for that sentiment, but noted that “much has happened over the past month in your country,” referring to the period since Trump took office.

“Too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations, and our common security, for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” he said.

Treason! Why the provocative accusations against Trump and his aides are unlikely to go anywhere

 (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

The word is hurled like a thunderbolt: Treason!

There are few more serious charges than taking up the cause of America’s enemies and colluding to undermine the country from within.

Yet that very accusation has been leveled against President Trump by some of his most fevered critics. They cite, among the particulars, the president’s evident high regard for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin , and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, which helped Trump and badly undermined Democrat Hillary Clinton .

It’s not just left-wing celebrities like film director Michael Moore who are wielding the T-word. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war veteran, used it during a CNN interview.

“If members of the administration are essentially conspiring with Russia … that’s the definition of treason,” Moulton said. “This is a very, very serious affair.”

Defense Secretary Mattis arrives in Iraq and makes clear the U.S. is not there to take oil

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. (United Arab Emirates News Agency / AFP-Getty Images)
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. (United Arab Emirates News Agency / AFP-Getty Images)

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis made an unannounced visit to Iraq’s capital on Monday to reassure allies of the U.S. military’s commitment to support the sprawling operation to recapture the city of Mosul from entrenched Islamic State militants.

Ahead of the trip, however, Mattis made clear he did not advocate President Trump’s oft-stated wish to take Iraq’s oil.

Such an undertaking would be illegal and require decades of occupation by hundreds of thousands of troops, and likely cost more money than could be earned from the oil.

“All of us … in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure we will continue to do so in the future,” Mattis said. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”

Trump, as a candidate and as president, has repeatedly said that the U.S. should have “taken Iraq’s oil,” including at CIA headquarters on just one day after his inauguration last month.

"The old expression, 'to the victor belong the spoils' — you remember," he said. “I always used to say, 'Keep the oil.' I wasn’t a fan of [the war in] Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong....

“If we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But OK. Maybe you’ll have another chance. But the fact is, should have kept the oil,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State, the militant group that seized oil fields in Iraq and Syria and sold their output on the black market.

Iraq's economy is nearly entirely reliant on oil and it remains the lifeblood for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s fragile government as it tries to provide basic services to citizens and maintain the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Legal experts have said the U.S. seizure of Iraqi oil would have violated decades of international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

When Mattis stepped off the C-17 cargo plane Monday morning, it marked his first return to the war-torn country where he spent years in combat as a Marine Corps officer before retiring as a four-star general in 2014.

He’s set to have face-to-face talks with Abadi and other senior Iraqi government officials, whom he called “our partner in this fight” against Islamic State. Iraqi ground forces began the assault Sunday to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The operation, backed by U.S. air power and special forces, is expected to take months.

“We’re going to make certain that we have good shared situational awareness of what we face as we work together, fight alongside each other to destroy ISIS,” Mattis told reporters Sunday before the trip.

Iraq is also one of seven countries named in Trump's temporary ban on travelers that was put on hold by the courts. Trump's ban caused anger in Iraq, where members of parliament considered retaliating by refusing to grant visas for U.S. nationals.

While the Trump administration intends to issue another version of the ban, Mattis said he was promised that it would shield the thousands of Iraqi interpreters, advisors and others who have assisted the American military in Iraq.

“Right now, I am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed in to the United States,” Mattis said. “They will be vetted obviously by their performance on the battlefield beside us.”

Congress White House

Senate committee asks White House and others to retain records related to Russia investigation

Sens. Richard Burr, right, and Mark Warner. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
Sens. Richard Burr, right, and Mark Warner. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The Senate Intelligence Committee has sent formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related issues , according to a congressional aide.

The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), sent letters Friday, the same day committee members received a classified briefing from FBI Director James B. Comey. Committee members declined to comment on what was discussed after the more than hourlong briefing.

The aide was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats wrote the White House and law enforcement agencies seeking assurances that they were preserving all materials related to contacts individuals associated with President Trump had with Russians.

Those letters asked for confirmation that the White House, FBI and Justice Department had instructed their employees to preserve all materials related to any contacts Trump's administration, campaign, transition team — or anyone acting on their behalf — have had with Russian government officials or its associates.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that as long as committee members "do their job, and we cooperate with them, they'll issue a report, and the report will say there's nothing there."

White House

White House denies any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

 (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
(Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)

As questions deepened about ties between President Trump ’s administration and Vladimir Putin ’s Russia, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus flatly denied Sunday that the two camps colluded during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Priebus, in a series of news show interviews, also insisted that ousted national security advisor Mike Flynn had done nothing illegal in discussing sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador to Washington prior to Trump’s inauguration, and batted aside questions about disorder and disarray in the White House.

Priebus, who was not on Trump’s campaign, has previously said he could not speak to any involvement with Russia by campaign staff. But asked on “ Fox News Sunday” whether there was collusion “between anybody involved with Trump and anybody involved with Russia” during the campaign, he replied: “No.”

He was somewhat more equivocal in a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about a New York Times article last week that alleged contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Russia interfered in the election with the aim of aiding Trump.

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