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

Boy Scouts: Top leaders didn't call Trump to praise speech as the president said

The Boy Scouts denied Wednesday that the head of the youth organization called President Donald Trump to praise his recent politically aggressive speech to its national jamboree.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Wednesday, "I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful." Politico published the transcript of the interview.

"We are unaware of any such call," the Boy Scouts responded in a statement. It specified that neither of the organization's two top leaders — President Randall Stephenson and Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh — had placed such a call.

The White House had no immediate response to the Boy Scouts' denial.

Surbaugh apologized last week to members of the scouting community who were offended by the political rhetoric in Trump's July 24 speech in West Virginia.

Other U.S. presidents have delivered nonpolitical speeches at past jamborees. To the dismay of many parents and former scouts, Trump promoted his political agenda and derided his rivals, inducing some of the scouts in attendance to boo at the mention of former President Obama.

"I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree," Surbaugh said. "That was never our intent."

Surbaugh noted that every sitting president since 1937 has been invited to visit the jamboree.

Stephenson told the Associated Press two days after the speech that Boy Scout leaders anticipated Trump would spark controversy with politically tinged remarks, yet felt obliged to invite him out of respect for his office.

Hoping to minimize friction, the Boy Scouts issued guidelines to adult staff members for how the audience should react to the speech. Any type of political chanting was specifically discouraged.

Stephenson, who did not attend Trump's speech, said the guidance wasn't followed impeccably.

Mayor of London again calls on Trump to cancel state visit

 (AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

The mayor of London has reiterated his calls for President Trump’s state visit to Britain to be canceled in the wake of the city's terrorist incident, saying his policies “go against everything we stand for.”

The war of words between the two leaders intensified further Monday evening after Trump criticized Mayor Sadiq Khan's response to the London Bridge terrorist attack in two tweets, and the mayor said Trump should not be welcomed in the capital.

“Since Saturday I’ve been working with the police, with the emergency services, with the government and others to deal with the horrific attack on Saturday,” Khan said Monday evening. “I just haven’t got the time to deal with tweets from Donald Trump.”

But when pressed on whether he thinks a state visit for later this year should go ahead as planned, Khan was unequivocal.

“My position remains the same. I don’t think we should be rolling out the carpet to the president of the United States in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for,” Khan told Channel 4 news.

“When you have a special relationship, it is no different to when you have a close mate: You stand with them in times of adversity, but you call them out when they’re wrong. And there are many things about which Donald Trump is wrong.”

Trump initially criticized Khan hours after the London attack posting on Twitter: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!'”

Khan’s office soon pointed out that the president had, in fact, misquoted Khan, who actually said that Londoners should not be alarmed by the increased armed police presence on the streets.

Trump took to Twitter again on Monday to slam the London mayor once more.

“Pathetic excuse by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM [Mainstream media] is working hard to sell it!” the president wrote.

This is not the first time Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital city, has called for Trump’s state visit to be banned.

He previously branded  Trump’s policies on immigration and proposed travel ban on people entering the U.S. from predominantly Muslim countries “cruel.”

An online government petition calling for the invitation to be withdrawn also gathered more than 1.8 million votes.

The visit was first announced during Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip to Washington, where she became the first foreign leader to meet the newly-inaugurated president.

State visits are personal invites from the British monarch and involve a significant amount of pomp and ceremony, and usually a state banquet.

He helped bring down President Nixon. He thinks President Trump is even worse.

 (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

John Dean is a connoisseur of coverups, a savant of scandal, so he can more than imagine what it’s like inside the Trump White House right now.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said, presiding in a high-backed leather wing chair off the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not just for those in the headlines — political strategist Steve Bannon, jack-of-many-duties Jared Kushner — but for their unsung assistants and secretaries as well.

“They don’t know what their jeopardy is. They don’t know what they’re looking at. They don’t know if they’re a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don’t know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they’re going to pay for them if they do,” Dean said in a crisp law-counsel cadence. “It’s an unpleasant place.”

Dean was a central figure in Watergate, the 1970s political scandal against which all others are measured, serving at the tender age of 32 as President Nixon’s White House attorney. In that capacity Dean worked to thwart investigators after the clumsy break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, then flipped and helped sink Nixon by revealing the president’s involvement in the coverup.

Trump to announce decision today on climate pact

 (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump plans to bring weeks of indecision over climate change policy to a close this afternoon, announcing if he will withdraw the U.S. from the international agreement on climate change reached in Paris in 2015.

Read our coverage of the debate leading up to today's announcement:

The choice for Trump appears to be whether to quit the treaty entirely or stay with it but significantly scale back the U.S. commitment to combat global warming. 

The debate has split Trump's advisors for months. He has also been heavily lobbied by other leaders, from the pope to California Gov. Jerry Brown, who weighed in Wednesday in an interview.

U.S. diplomats have been making clear to their foreign counterparts that the Trump administration believes that economic growth at home is a higher priority than fighting climate change.

But a large number of business leaders believe that the climate change agreement is good for the economy. They and their allies in the Republican Party have been making that case to the White House.

Regardless of what Trump decides, California and other states with Democratic majorities have made clear that they intend to continue state policies to combat climate change. 

California leaders, in particular, have been taking the lead in building international support for efforts to convert to renewable energy and reduce use of coal and other fossil fuels.

Companies accelerate hiring, adding a robust 253,000 net new jobs, ADP says

A "now hiring" sign is seen in Baton Rouge, La., on May 5. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A "now hiring" sign is seen in Baton Rouge, La., on May 5. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Companies accelerated their hiring last month, adding a robust 253,000 net new jobs in a sign the labor market remains healthy and the economy is strengthening after a weak winter.

The private-sector job creation figures reported Thursday by payroll firm Automatic Data Processing far exceeded analyst expectations and was well above the downwardly revised 174,000 net new positions added in April.

“Job growth is rip-roaring,” declared Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which assists ADP in preparing its report.

All jokes aside, Trump's 'covfefe' tweet sparks questions too

 (Twitter)
(Twitter)

President Trump sparked a global kerfuffle over “covfefe” with his bizarrely truncated tweet just minutes into Wednesday, spawning countless jokes across Twitter but also more serious questions for which the White House gave no answers.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer, during an unusually short 11-minute briefing in which he insisted he not be on camera, declined to give any explanation for Trump's tweet posted just after midnight. Nor would he translate what the president was trying to say in the garbled message that broke off midsentence.

But Spicer told reporters that the public should not be concerned that the president sent what the questioner called “somewhat of an incoherent tweet.”

"The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," Spicer said.

Biden launches new PAC, keeping the 2020 door open

 (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Former Vice President Joe Biden is launching a new political action committee, a platform that will allow him to provide help to favored candidates and, inevitably, boost speculation about a possible run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

The organization, which Biden is calling American Possibilities, will be staffed by a former top political aide to the vice president, Greg Schultz, who is also a veteran of President Obama's reelection campaign.

The PAC will allow Biden to raise money that he can use to travel the country, contribute to candidates in governor's races this year and congressional and state races in 2018 and generally do the sorts of things that aspiring politicians do to keep their names in the headlines.

All that can't help but nurture questions about whether Biden, 74, will try yet again to attain the office he first started running for in 1987.

In public appearances, which have taken him to electorally important states, and interviews since the 2016 election, Biden has been sharply critical of the Trump administration, but has also pointed to flaws in his own party. In one interview, he pointed to a "bit of elitism that’s crept in" to the party's approach to working-class voters.

At the same time, he has given carefully ambiguous answers when asked about his plans. At a conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, he responded to the question about a presidential run by saying: "Could I? Yes. Would I? Probably not."

In the announcement for the new group, Biden said that "the negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics drives me crazy. It’s not who we are."

"It’s time for big dreams and American possibilities," he said. 

Former FBI director spoke with new special counsel and is cleared to testify before Senate panel

The special counsel investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign has cleared former FBI Director James Comey to testify before a congressional committee about his contacts with President Trump, according to an associate close to Comey.

Comey met with Robert S. Mueller III, whom the Justice Department appointed on May 17 to investigate any Russian ties to the Trump campaign, and Mueller said he had no problems with Comey's testifying, the associate said.             

Trump abruptly fired Comey as head of the FBI on May 9. The president later said in an interview on NBC News that he was concerned about the FBI investigation into what he called the "Russia thing." 

Comey reportedly wrote internal memos after his meetings with Trump. In one, he wrote that the president had requested he ease up on the FBI probe of Michael Flynn, who served as Trump's national security advisor until he was ousted in February for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced on May 19 that Comey had agreed to testify after the Memorial Day holiday. The hearing has not been scheduled.

The FBI separately declined a request from the House Oversight Committee to turn over Comey's memos. The bureau said it would need to consult with Mueller before making any decisions.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee chairman, said in response that he would not push the matter.

"The focus of the committee's investigation is the independence of the FBI" and the events leading to Comey's firing, he wrote.

In a separate development, a senior Justice Department lawyer with experience in complex financial fraud investigations has agreed to join Mueller's investigation.

Andrew Weissman has led the fraud section at Justice, where he oversaw probes into corporate wrongdoing at Volkswagen and Takata. Weissman also is a veteran of the FBI.

Weissman is the highest-ranking Justice Department official to join the special counsel office being set up a few blocks from the main Justice building in downtown Washington.

Mueller also hired two colleagues from the WilmerHale law firm, where he worked, and brought on a former Justice Department spokesman, Peter Carr, to handle media inquiries.

Trump preparing to pull U.S. from Paris climate accord, amid last-minute lobbying

President Trump hasn’t made a final decision on whether the U.S. will quit the Paris Accord on climate change, but White House officials indicated Wednesday that he was headed in that direction, setting off a worldwide reaction.

A flurry of leaks, counter-leaks and public statements thrust back into the spotlight a decision that has been agonized and untidy even by the standards of a White House known for internal drama.

Wednesday morning, when officials told some news organizations that Trump had settled on pulling out of the climate agreement, seemingly everyone in the world jumped in to try to influence or spin his decision, from the Chinese government to the coal industry to the state of California.

That offered a foretaste of the reaction Trump likely will receive if he does follow through on his vow to pull the United States out of the 195-nation pact, which President Obama hailed in 2015 as one of his major achievements.

Other nations have swiftly moved to take over the leadership role on climate that the United States would be abandoning. Some states have followed suit, promising they would break with Washington to work with other countries in their efforts to contain global warming.

During Trump's recent overseas trip, U.S. allies warned him that America's broader diplomatic influence would be undercut if the administration gave up its seat at the climate negotiating table.

All the public lobbying on Wednesday moved Trump to weigh in himself. He knocked down reports that he had decided to withdraw with a tweet announcing that he was still making up his mind.

The mixed messages coming out of the White House left open the possibility that the original news reports reflected the views of officials who were aiming to steer the final outcome by presenting withdrawal as a done deal.

Trump's schedule for the day includes meetings with advisors hoping to talk him into staying in the agreement, at least to some extent.

If Trump does withdraw the U.S. fully from the Paris pact, scientists warn it will be a tremendous setback to the worldwide effort to contain temperatures from rising an average of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The consequences for the United States would extend beyond global warming. 

“It will be a very big deal all over the world,” said Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator during the Obama administration. “There will be consequential blowback with respect to our diplomatic position across the board.”

UPDATES

9:27 a.m.: This post was updated throughout with staff reporting and additional details.

6:23 a.m.: This post was updated with Trump's tweet.

6:04 a.m.: This post was updated throughout with additional details.

Analysis: In President Trump's wake, divisions mark both Democratic and Republican parties

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez address a crowd at the California party convention in May. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez address a crowd at the California party convention in May. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Six months after President Trump breached long-standing political boundaries to win the White House, the nation’s major political parties still muddle in his wake.

On the sun-swept lawn of the Hotel del Coronado two weeks ago, national Republican leaders sipped cocktails and listened to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, one of the party’s brightest lights in the most populous state, praise a brand of moderate Republicanism that looks nothing like the versions coming out of Washington — either the populism of the president or the more orthodox conservatism of congressional leaders.

A week later, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez talked in a Sacramento interview of the “remarkably constructive” debate underway in his party, characterizing its divisions as largely in the past. Within hours, he and other party leaders were booed as they welcomed delegates to a state convention that would be filled with persistent internal warfare on healthcare and other issues.

No political party is immune to disagreement; indeed the path to power often relies on combustible ideological diversity. But Democrats and Republicans alike seem particularly adrift and quarrelsome these days.

Two decades ago, Washington state Republicans repealed and replaced a healthcare overhaul there. It didn't end well

Republicans in the state of Washington didn’t wait long in the spring of 1995 to fulfill their pledge to roll back a sweeping law expanding health coverage in the state.

Coming off historic electoral gains, the GOP legislators scrapped much of the law while pledging to make health insurance affordable and to free state residents from onerous government mandates.

It didn’t work out that way: The repeal left the state’s insurance market in shambles, sent premiums skyrocketing and drove health insurers from the state. It took nearly five years to repair the damage.

Two decades later, the ill-fated experiment, largely relegated to academic journals, offers a caution to lawmakers at the national level as Republicans in the U.S. Senate race to write a bill to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

“It’s much easier to break something,” said Pam MacEwan, who led a Washington state commission charged with implementing the law in the mid-1990s and now oversees the state insurance market there. “It’s more difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. … And that’s when people get hurt.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office echoed that warning last week, when it concluded that the healthcare bill passed by the House last month would destabilize insurance markets in a sixth of the country and nearly double the number of people without health insurance over the next decade.

U.S., region's foreign ministers debate Venezuela

 (AFP / Getty Images)
(AFP / Getty Images)

The United States and foreign ministers from across the hemisphere met in Washington on Wednesday to attempt to force Venezuela's leftist government and its angry opposition into talks.

Hunger and violence have pushed Venezuela to the brink of humanitarian disaster, diplomats say.

But Wednesday's meeting of the Organization of American States faced unlikely prospects for success: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro does not trust the organization and has said his nation will withdraw its membership.

Some OAS nations, including several U.S. allies in the Caribbean, have criticized the regional body's efforts as intervention promoted by Washington.

But U.S. officials are hoping the sheer weight of the crisis will unite the region to put pressure on Venezuela. 

"There’s more and more concern about what we’re seeing, and so more and more countries have gotten over their reluctance to question or go against the wishes of the Venezuelan government," a senior State Department official said in a briefing for reporters.

"It's really hard to stand by and do nothing in the face of the kinds of institutional steps we’ve seen in Venezuela, and the increasing humanitarian suffering," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with frequent administration practice.

Although the OAS periodically brings its members' foreign ministers together, this is the first time a meeting has been convened to deal with a single topic, U.S. officials said.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's session, diplomats said they had discussed two resolutions. One, promoted by Caribbean nations, called on Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS.

A second more pointed resolution authored by the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama and Peru urged the Maduro administration not to go ahead with a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Many fear it would dissolve the few democratic institutions that remain and favor the ruling Socialist Party.

Separately, the Venezuela opposition, emboldened by a string of increasingly massive street demonstrations, sharply criticized Wall Street for extending what it called a "lifeline" to the Maduro government.

At issue is the purchase by Goldman Sachs of Venezuelan government bonds for a reported $865 million, a major discount for paper originally worth $2.8 billion.

Goldman Sachs confirmed the purchase of the bonds, issued in 2014 by the state oil company PDVSA, after it was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

"We are invested in PDVSA bonds because, like many in the asset management industry, we believe the situation in the country must improve over time," Goldman said in a statement. The firm added that it made the purchase through a secondary dealer to avoid direct interaction with the Venezuelan government.

That distinction meant nothing to the Venezuelan opposition, which accused Goldman of "making a buck off the suffering" of the Venezuelan people.

The Trump administration previously has targeted the Maduro government, slapping economic sanctions on its vice president and pro-Maduro Supreme Court justices. 

U.S. Supreme Court makes it harder to sue police for barging into homes

Jennifer Garcia Mendez, left, and Angel Mendez, right, sit with their son, A.J. Bendecito Mendez. The parents were shot in their Lancaster home by L.A. County sheriff's deputies on Oct. 1, 2010. (KTLA-TV Channel 5)
Jennifer Garcia Mendez, left, and Angel Mendez, right, sit with their son, A.J. Bendecito Mendez. The parents were shot in their Lancaster home by L.A. County sheriff's deputies on Oct. 1, 2010. (KTLA-TV Channel 5)

The U.S. Supreme Court made it harder to sue police for barging into a home and provoking a shooting, setting aside a $4-million verdict against two Los Angeles County deputies on Tuesday.

The money was awarded to a homeless couple who were startled and then shot when the two sheriffs deputies entered the shack where they were sleeping.

The unanimous ruling rejected the so-called provocation rule that some lower courts have used. Under that rule, police can be sued for violating a victim’s constitutional rights against unreasonable searches if they provoked a confrontation that resulted in violence.

Trump lashes out at Germany over NATO spending and trade after Merkel questions the U.S. commitment to its allies

 (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump took aim at German trade practices and defense spending Tuesday following pointed criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel that Germany may not be able to rely on its allies.

"We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change," Trump wrote in a tweet.

Last week, White House spokespeople had denied that Trump criticized German trade practices after the German newspaper Der Spiegel quoted him as having done so. 

Trump unsettled Merkel and other allies during the recent NATO summit when, during his remarks, he did not mention the central commitment members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization make to defend each other.

Trump's policy toward climate change is another point of contention with many European countries. Trump promised during the election to tear up the landmark Paris climate accord. 

Merkel said the conversation with the U.S. on climate change last week during the G-7 meetings in Sicily, which followed the NATO summit, was "extremely difficult."

During a campaign speech in Munich on Sunday, Merkel said Germany must rethink how much it can rely on its allies. "The era in which we could rely completely on others is gone, at least partially,” Merkel said. “I have experienced that over the last several days.”

In a 2014 meeting, NATO defense ministers agreed that each state would move toward a goal of raising military spending to 2% of its annual economic output by the year 2024. German defense spending is below that goal.

The U.S. trade deficit with Germany shrank to $65 billion in 2016 from $75 billion the year before.

White House

White House communications director Michael Dubke resigns

White House Communications Director Mike Dubke listens as a reporter asks a question during a press conference in the East Room of the White House on April 20. (Shawn Thew / EPA)
White House Communications Director Mike Dubke listens as a reporter asks a question during a press conference in the East Room of the White House on April 20. (Shawn Thew / EPA)

White House communications director Michael Dubke has resigned.

Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor, told The Associated Press that Dubke handed in his resignation before President Donald Trump left for his international trip earlier this month.

In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Conway said Dubke "made very clear that he would see through the president's international trip, and come to work every day and work hard even through that trip because there was much to do here back at the White House."

Dubke issued a statement Tuesday morning: 

"It has been my great honor to serve President Trump and this administration. It has also been my distinct pleasure to work side-by-side, day-by-day with the staff of the communications and press departments."

A Republican consultant, Dubke joined the White House team in February after campaign aide Jason Miller — Trump's original choice for communications director — withdrew from consideration. Dubke founded Crossroads Media, a GOP firm that specializes in political advertising.

--

6:03 a.m.: Updated with Dubke's statement

Consumers spend at fastest pace in four months in a sign of spring economic rebound

 (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

Americans ratcheted up their spending in April at the fastest pace in four months, in a sign the economy has rebounded this spring after a lackluster winter.

The new data also could help push Federal Reserve officials to hike a key interest rate again when they meet in two weeks.

Personal consumption expenditures increased 0.4% in April, up from 0.3% the previous month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Americans had more money to spend, with personal incomes also rising 0.4% — twice the pace of growth in March.

Should Jared Kushner keep his security clearance? Adam Schiff isn't sure

 (European Pressphoto Agency)
(European Pressphoto Agency)

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), says he’s not sure that President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, should retain his security clearance.

The California Democrat, who has been a sharp critic of Trump, also said in an interview aired Sunday that national security advisor H.R. McMaster, a highly respected military officer, had been tarnished by his association with the White House.

Schiff’s comments, on ABC’s “This Week,” came amid growing questions about Kushner’s contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office. Trump has denounced the latest round of news reports, saying that some of them could be based on fabricated sources.

Top Trump aides, including John F. Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, pushed back Sunday against the suggestion that there was anything untoward about establishing “back channel” communications with the Russians during the presidential transition.

Schiff said he regretted that McMaster had done so as well, saying he believed the White House “used” the solid reputations of people like him to back up dubious actions.   

“Sadly, I think this is an administration that takes in people with good credibility and chews them out and spits out their credibility at the same time,” said Schiff, who acknowledged that what McMaster said about back channel communications was “true in the abstract.”

“I think anyone within the Trump orbit is at risk of being used,” he said.

Kelly, in separate talk-show appearances on Sunday, said there was nothing untoward about an incoming administration establishing communications with a foreign power in order to lay the groundwork for better relations.

Schiff declined to discuss the substance of the allegations regarding Kushner’s contact with Russian officials during the transition and whether Kushner had been forthcoming about them, but said enough questions had been raised that his access to top-secret intelligence should be scrutinized.

“I think we need to get to the bottom of these allegations,” Schiff said. “But I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance to find out whether he was truthful, whether he was candid. If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance.”

Schiff was also critical of continuing involvement in aspects of the Russia probe by fellow Californian Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who stepped aside from the probe earlier this year after the House Ethics Committee began investigating whether he had improperly revealed classified information. 

Nunes remains involved in decision-making about the issuance of subpoenas, Schiff said, adding: “I don’t think that he should, given that he has stepped aside or recused himself.”

The committee is investigating Russian entanglements by figures in Trump’s circle, including fired national security advisor Michael Flynn, who has been the target of multiple subpoenas.

Trump still 'wide open' on climate change, Pentagon chief says

 (AP)
(AP)

With President Trump set to make a decision this week about whether the U.S. should remain part of the landmark Paris climate accord, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Trump remains “wide open” on the issue.

During a visit to Europe that ended Saturday, Trump dismayed European allies by refusing to commit to remaining in the 2015 accord during talks with European Union officials in Brussels and at the Group of Seven gathering in Sicily. The president said in a tweet that he will make a decision this week.

Mattis, who was present at some of the Brussels talks, said that Trump is still making up his mind, and that he has been inquisitive about other leaders’ opinions.

“The president was open – he was curious about why others were in the position they were in, his counterparts in other nations,” the Defense secretary said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“And I’m quite certain the president is wide open on this issue as he takes in the pros and cons of that accord.”

During his European trip, Trump met privately at the Vatican with Pope Francis, who presented him with a copy of his papal encyclical on environment and climate change. French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with Trump in Brussels, also said he had pressed the issue with the U.S. president, though the White House did not mention that appeal in a summary of their meeting.

Homeland Security secretary defends Jared Kushner, blasts Manchester intelligence leaks

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

There is nothing inherently wrong with an incoming presidential administration establishing “back channel” communications with a foreign power such as Russia, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly said Sunday. 

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Kelly was asked about reports by the Washington Post and other outlets that President Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor, Jared Kushner, sought to set up secret lines of communication with Russian officials prior to Trump being sworn in.

The retired general did not confirm the reports, but said the principle of establishing secretive contacts during a presidential transition “doesn't bother me” and is a legitimate means of building relationships.

“I think that any channel of communication, back or otherwise, with a country like Russia is a good thing,” he said.

Kelly did not address a central element of the reports — that Kushner discussed the possibility of using Russian communications channels from a Russia diplomatic outpost to shield from U.S. intelligence surveillance whatever discussions Trump transition officials wanted to have with Moscow.

The FBI, a special counsel and multiple congressional committees are probing Russian interference in the presidential campaign and whether the Trump camp colluded in it. The U.S. intelligence community says Russian cyberattacks were meant to boost Trump and harm his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

In a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kelly defended the integrity of Kushner, whose involvement in communications with Russia has brought the investigation closer to Trump personally than has previous scrutiny of others in his campaign circle or the White House.

Calling Kushner “a great guy, a decent guy,” the Homeland Security secretary said the president’s son-in-law’s “No. 1 interest, really, is the nation.”

Also in the NBC interview, Kelly excoriated intelligence leaks in the wake of last week’s deadly bombing in Manchester, England. British officials including Prime Minister Theresa May were angered by disclosures about details of the investigation, including the release of the dead attacker’s name and detailed photos from the bomb scene that were published by the New York Times.

Several outlets cited unnamed U.S. officials as the source of the information including the bomber’s identity. The Times did not say how it obtained the photos.

Britain routinely shares intelligence with close allies like the United States with the expectation that it will be kept confidential. Kelly said that failing to keep such secrets could seriously damage intelligence-sharing arrangements with other nations.

"I believe when you leak the kind of information that seems to be routinely leaked -— high, high level of classification… I think it's darn close to treason," Kelly said. It is not clear what level of classification, if any, the information about the British investigation would have had.

Trump himself, who recently caused controversy when he passed sensitive intelligence on Islamic State to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and discussed the location of U.S. nuclear submarines with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has denounced the Manchester leaks and vowed to track down the source or sources.

In tweets, Trump says stories based on White House leaks are fabricated

 (European Pressphoto Agency)
(European Pressphoto Agency)

President Trump is back – and tweeting.

In a Sunday morning series of posts on Twitter, the president repeated his denunciations of the “fake media,” celebrated the Republican victory in a Montana special election and declared his overseas trip a success.

Trump returned to the White House late Saturday after a swing through the Middle East and Europe, the first foreign trip of his presidency. During it, he tweeted only sparingly.

While Trump was away, controversy continued to swirl around his White House, with media reports focusing on son-in-law Jared Kushner’s role in Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials. The GOP healthcare plan and Trump’s budget also came under withering scrutiny during the president's absence.

In Sunday’s tweets, Trump said cascading leaks from within his administration were in fact “fabricated lies” by news organizations based on sources that did not exist. One tweet was corrected to fix the spelling of “exist.”

Trump also complained that the special congressional election in Montana, called to fill the seat vacated when Ryan Zinke became his Interior secretary, "was such a big deal to Dems & Fake News until the Republican won." The "V was poorly covered," he said, referring to the Republican victory.

The victory by Republican candidate Greg Gianforte received extensive coverage. It was widely expected, given Montana's significant Republican edge, but made more suspenseful on the eve of the election when Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for an incident in which he struck a reporter who had asked him a question.

The president received mixed reviews for his inaugural overseas venture. He was praised by some for his outreach to Sunni Arab allies in the Persian Gulf, but continued his administration’s practice of making no public criticism of serious human rights violations.

In Europe, he rattled allies by declining to explicitly endorse the NATO alliance’s bedrock common defense pledge or pledge to adhere to the Paris climate accord.

Whatever the commentary surrounding the trip, Trump counted it a success.

“Hard work but big results,” he wrote.

 

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