Essential Washington

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

Trump rages after LaVar Ball downplays his role in freeing UCLA basketball players held in China: 'I should have left them in jail!'

President Trump said Sunday he should have left three UCLA basketball players accused of shoplifting in China in jail. 

Trump's tweet came after the father of player LiAngelo Ball minimized the president's involvement in winning the players' release during an interview Saturday with ESPN. Trump has said he raised the players' detention with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the leaders' recent meeting in Beijing. 

The players returned to the U.S. last week. They have been indefinitely suspended from the team. 

White House

President Trump will pick up the tab for his legal fees, lawyer says

Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images None
Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images

President Trump won’t rely on the Republican National Committee to pay his legal bills during the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference with last year’s campaign, one of his lawyers said Friday.

“He pays his legal fees now,” said the lawyer, John Dowd. “He’s working out a way to square the account.”

Trump’s decision was first reported by Reuters. The Republican National Committee previously paid $231,250 to the offices of Dowd and Jay Sekulow, another one of Trump’s lawyers, in August. 

The next question, Dowd said, is whether Trump can financially support the legal fees incurred by members of his administration, many of whom have hired their own lawyers to handle the special counsel investigation. 

"The question is, can he kick into that fund?” Dowd said. "That’s being put to the experts” to ensure nothing violates ethics rules.

Democratic candidate for Ohio governor defends Sen. Al Franken — then brags about his own sexual history

 (Amy Sancetta / Associated Press)
(Amy Sancetta / Associated Press)

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill publicly defended Sen. Al Franken against allegations he groped a woman while she was asleep — but then went too far.

In a now-deleted Facebook post Friday, O’Neill – who recently launched a Democratic campaign to run for governor of Ohio – detailed his own sexual history in defense of Franken and “all heterosexual males.”

“Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males. As a candidate for Governor let me save my opponents some research time,” he wrote.

“In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous blonde who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head from Cleveland,” he added.

“Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis. I am [so] disappointed by this national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago.”

Many viewed the post as remarkably tone-deaf in the national debate over sexual misconduct allegations and evidence against a series of powerful men in Hollywood, the media and in politics.  

The three women running as Republicans for Ohio governor – former Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton Mayor Nan Whiley and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor – have called on O’Neill to quit the race. So has the other Democrat, Joe Schiavoni. 

But in an interview this morning with NPR affiliate WOSU, O’Neill said he stood by his statement and had no intention of backing down. 

About six hours after his initial post, O’Neill hid or deleted it from his Facebook page. His new post makes no mention of his past sexual experiences, nor does it address his previous comments.

“As a 15-year jurist, I like to think I speak with clarity. So let me try again. When a United States Senator commits a non-criminal act of indiscretion; and when it is brought to his attention he immediately has the integrity to apologize; and the apology is accepted by the victim: IT IS WRONG for the dogs of war to leap onto his back and demand his resignation from the United States Senate. It is morally wrong,” he wrote.

“And as an aside for all you sanctimonious judges who are demanding my resignation, hear this. I was a civil right lawyer actively prosecuting sexual harassment cases on behalf of the Attorney General's Office before Anita Hill and before you were born. Lighten up folks. This is how Democrats remain in the minority.”

Trump names five more Supreme Court contenders

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

Looking ahead to a future vacancy on the Supreme Court, President Trump on Friday named five conservative judges to his list of potential nominees to the high court.

They include Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, 45, who was confirmed two weeks ago to a seat on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 52, a White House lawyer for President George W. Bush and a former clerk for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.   

“The president is refreshing his list,” White House counsel Donald McGahn told an enthusiastic crowd at the Federalist Society convention at the Mayflower Hotel.

Kavanaugh’s name drew a loud response. “He’s winning on the applause meter,” McGahn said.

It was something of surprise that Kavanaugh was left off Trump’s lists last year. He had been seen as a strong candidate for the next Supreme Court vacancy in a Republican administration, particularly if Kennedy were to retire. But legal experts from the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society who helped draft the list chose then not to name any prominent Washington figures. 

But last month, Kavanaugh took the side of the Trump administration in a dispute over whether a 17-year-old immigrant held in a refugee center could obtain an abortion. He wrote a 2-1 decision that put her abortion on hold for several days, but he was then overruled by the D.C. Circuit in a 6-3 decision. The young woman then had the abortion.

As for Barrett, the “the dogma lives loudly in her,” McGahn said jokingly. “A prominent Democrat suggested she couldn't be trusted because she is a practicing Catholic,” he added.

He was referring, if not entirely accurately, to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who questioned Barrett at her Senate hearing over whether she could separate her personal beliefs from her legal duties. Feinstein said at one point the “dogma lives” in her.

Barrett, then a law professor, said she had written that all judges must be able to follow the law and set aside their personal views where there was conflict.

The other new names on Trump’s list were Judge Kevin Newsom, a former Alabama solicitor general who was recently confirmed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta; Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant; and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump pledged to appoint conservative judges and took the unusual step of issuing two lists of his top-10 contenders. The second list included Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of Colorado, who in turn was appointed to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.




House passes its tax reform plan as Senate version comes under new attack

House Republicans approved their sweeping tax-cut package Thursday, setting up a showdown with the Senate, where Republicans are struggling to win support for their own significantly different approach.

Senate GOP leaders, after making some revisions this week, are facing mounting dissent and criticism that their tax plan favors corporations and the wealthy. An analysis by Congress' bipartisan tax experts on Thursday concluded the Senate plan would raise taxes for some of the poorest Americans by 2021.

House Republicans had an easier time, passing their measure by a vote of 227 to 205, though 13 Republicans voted no.

Kayla Moore, wife of Roy Moore, defends husband as he fights sexual assault allegations

The wife of Republican Roy Moore tried Friday to help him recover from sexual assault allegations that have imperiled his campaign for U.S. Senate, saying Alabama voters could count on him to fight abortion, gun control and transgender rights.

Kayla Moore did not directly address accusations that her husband decades ago molested a 14-year-old girl, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old waitress, grabbed the buttocks of a 28-year-old woman and made unwanted advances on teenagers.

But at an event in Montgomery, Ala., with women who back her husband, she said that attacks on him were part of a plot by liberals in the media, the Democratic National Committee and the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

“The very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us,” she said. “I personally think he owes us a thank you. Have you noticed you’re not hearing too much about Russia?”

With a new Fox News poll showing that Democrat Doug Jones has pulled ahead in the Dec. 12 special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Moore went on the attack.

She said Jones — a lawyer who prosecuted the case against the Ku Klux Klan members who killed four girls in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham — “is against everything we and Alabama stand for.”

She questioned Jones’ record on abortion, guns and transgender military service and bathroom access.

Roy Moore, a champion of religious-right causes when he was chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct.

“He will not step down,” his wife said.

Watch: Sen. Orrin Hatch to Democrats who say tax cuts are for the rich: 'Bull crap'

A debate between two senators over whether Republican tax cuts are aimed at helping the rich escalated into raised voices, interruptions, a banging gavel and the use of a decidedly un-senatorial noun.

"I'm telling you, this bull crap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the oldest and longest-serving Senate Republican, said to a Democratic colleague.

The dispute flared Thursday night as Republicans pushed a $1.5-trillion tax cut for businesses and individuals through the Senate Finance Committee over Democrats' objections. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said everyone knew Republicans aim to help the wealthy because "it's in their DNA."

Hatch, 83, a senator since 1977 and the committee chairman, decided he'd had enough.

"I come from the poor people, and I've been working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance," said Hatch, looking down the committee's U-shaped table at Brown. "And I really resent anybody saying I'm just doing this for the rich."

Hatch is generally soft-spoken and has a history of working with Democrats, and his display of emotion was unusual. He has not said whether he will seek reelection next fall as his latest term expires.

As Brown tried interjecting and the decibel level rose, Hatch told him, "I'm not through," and said he gets "sick and tired" of that argument.

"I get sick and tired of the richest people in the country getting richer and richer and richer," Brown said.

"I come from the lower middle class originally. We didn't have anything," Hatch said. "So don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap."

Republicans have sold their tax package in part as a way to help the middle class. Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation projected Thursday that the Senate measure eventually would raise taxes on people earning $75,000 or less because the bill's tax cuts for individuals will expire and other changes.

Brown said the GOP plan isn't for the middle class, "no matter how many times they sing that song." He disputed the Republican argument that tax breaks for businesses will produce higher wages and compared it to a difficult shot in basketball.

"Spare us the bank shots," Brown said. "Spare us the sarcasm, the satire."

Brown faces reelection next November to what would be his third six-year Senate term.

White House

U.S. calls for swift return to civilian rule in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe speaks at a Nov. 17 university graduation ceremony in Harare, his first public appearance since he was ousted in a coup (AFP/Getty Images)
Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe speaks at a Nov. 17 university graduation ceremony in Harare, his first public appearance since he was ousted in a coup (AFP/Getty Images)

The United States on Friday called for a swift return to civilian rule in Zimbabwe, where longtime leader Robert Mugabe was abruptly ousted in a military coup.

“Zimbabwe has an opportunity to set itself on a new path — one that must include democratic elections and respect for human rights,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in remarks to a ministerial summit on security and governance in Africa.

“We all should work together for a quick return to civilian rule in that country in accordance with their constitution,” he said.

Mugabe was placed under house arrest earlier this week by the Zimbabwe military after a long succession crisis in which the 93-year-old strongman fired his vice president.

These were the first extensive comments on the Zimbabwe conflict by the Trump administration.

Tillerson also called on African nations to do more to cut their extensive business ties with North Korea.

North Korea “presents a threat to all of our nations,” Tillerson said.

Florida Democratic Party chairman resigns over sexual comments

The Florida Democratic Party chairman is resigning after a report that he makes women feel uncomfortable.

Stephen Bittel released a brief statement on the party's Twitter account Friday shortly after four of his party's candidates for governor called for him to step down.

Bittel apologized and said he didn't want his personal situation to be a distraction ahead of next year's elections.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and businessman Chris King all issued statements demanding Bittel leave the post he's held since January.

It was a response to a Politico report quoting anonymous women saying that Bittel would leer at them, make comments about their appearances or breasts and exhibit other behavior that made them uncomfortable. He also had a breast-shaped stress ball in his office.

None of the women said he groped or assaulted them.

In Orange County, fear and loathing for the GOP's "Screw California" tax bill

Chris Keena feels obliged to explain: He really is a Republican — honest! — before launching his critique of the Republican tax bill that just passed the House.

“I don’t believe in trickle-down theory,” said the 70-year-old retired attorney from Irvine. “The money they save — I’ve seen it in business — the money they save at the top, they keep at the top. It doesn’t trickle down.

“I hate to sound like a radical,” he went on, “and I guess it doesn’t go with being a Republican, but it’s a reality. There are a lot of people struggling here. The image is everyone is fat and happy. They’re not. They’re not.”

The sweeping tax-cut package, which passed Thursday with overwhelming support from California’s GOP House members, seems almost singularly designed to punish the state and its Democratic legion of Trump tormentors.

Eliminating most of the deduction for state and local taxes would be a hefty blow to millions of Californians. The same for a proposed cap on deducting property taxes and mortgage interest — write-offs that make the purchase of that charming $750,000 “starter home” a bit more attainable, if no less insane.

It goes on.

Trump, who has avoided talk of Roy Moore allegations, weighs in on accusations against Al Franken

President Trump has said little about allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
President Trump has said little about allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump, whose own campaign was rocked by sexual harassment allegations, has declined to publicly discuss accusations that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in the Alabama Senate race, made inappropriate advances toward teenage girls several decades ago.

His reticence disappeared Thursday night when it came to Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who was accused earlier in the day of groping and sexual hectoring during a 2006 USO tour.

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” read the president’s first tweet, sent just after 10 p.m. in Washington.

Ten minutes later, he added: “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”

The first referred to a photograph of Franken putting his hands near the breasts of a sleeping Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio news anchor who accused Franken of groping her and of an aggressive kiss during a rehearsal for a skit he had written.

The second appeared to refer to a skit Franken had discussed while working on "Saturday Night Live" that involved drugging and raping CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. The reference was included in a 1995 New York magazine article.

Franken, who joined the Senate in 2009, apologized to Tweeden on Thursday in two statements and said he would fully cooperate with an ethics investigation. Tweeden said in a CNN interview that she accepted the apology.

Trump’s criticism of Franken was notable because the president has so far declined to offer a specific response to allegations by several women that Moore, as a prosecutor in his 30s, approached them while they were teenagers. Two women have alleged physical assaults.

Trump said during his recently concluded Asia trip that he would have more to say about Moore when he returned home. But he left it to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday to offer a bare-bones comment.

“The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be,” she said.

Sanders said Trump believes Moore should step aside if the allegations are true, but she would not say what the president would take as proof.

During the presidential campaign, Trump was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment, many instances of which involved unwanted physical contact. He continues to contend that all of the women who have accused him are liars, Sanders said last month.

Trump also was captured in a video released one month before the election in which he bragged about grabbing and kissing women against their will.

Asked why Trump finds allegations against Moore troubling while contending the ones against him are to be dismissed, Sanders said that the president “has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do.”

“And he spoke out about that directly during the campaign. And I don’t have anything further to add beyond that,” she said.

Sen. Al Franken, accused of sexual harassment from 2006, apologizes and agrees to an ethics investigation

Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio show anchor said that he had forcibly kissed her and later groped her on a 2006 USO tour, and amid a blizzard of criticism said that he would “gladly cooperate” with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his actions.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” said Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who joined the Senate in 2009 after a career as a comedian. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Leeann Tweeden, a news anchor on KABC’s “McIntyre in the Morning,” said in a post on the station’s website Thursday and in interviews throughout the day that Franken had written a skit for the USO tour in which they kissed, and he demanded that they rehearse the scene.

Watch live: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a media briefing


Jared Kushner didn't turn over message about a 'Russian backdoor overture,' senators say

 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Senators said Thursday that President Trump's son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, had failed to turn over some documents Congress sought as it investigates Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. 

One of the missing documents was a message referencing a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to a bipartisan letter to Kushner’s attorney from Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s senior Democrat.

Kushner forwarded the message, the letter said, without providing further information, including how he received it or where he forwarded it. 

Senators became aware of the message when other people turned it over to the committee, the letter said.

Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that they have provided the Judiciary Committee "with all relevant documents" from the campaign and the transition but are "open to responding to any additional requests."

1:45 p.m.: This post was updated to include a statement from Kushner's lawyer.

25 GOP senators have disavowed Roy Moore. How does that compare to the 2016 Trump tape?

At least five women have accused Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers. With Alabama's special election runoff slated for Dec. 12, many GOP senators have withdrawn their endorsements of Moore or issued strong statements condemning him.

How does that compare with what GOP senators said about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump after an "Access Hollywood" tape portrayed him speaking crudely about women and bragging about his behavior with women that some have characterized as sexual assault?

Trump dismissed the 2005 tape as "locker room talk," but the incident sparked ample discussion about past sexual misconduct allegations. Several Senate Republicans spoke out.

After the tape surfaced, 12 of the 53 Republican senators in office at the time disavowed Trump and withdrew their backing. There were 14 senators who maintained support for Trump, and the rest offered partial criticism, rebuking his comments without explicitly rescinding their endorsements.

Of the 52 current GOP senators, 25 have disavowed Moore and say he should step aside. Another 26 have offered partial criticism – calling for him to quit with an "if true" caveat – and one has not yet commented.

New Jersey Sen. Menendez's bribery trial ends in a hung jury

The federal bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician and a wealthy donor. 

Prosecutors can seek to retry the lawmaker. 

U.S. District Judge William Walls declared the mistrial after more than six full days of deliberations that had to be re-started midway through when a juror was replaced. 

There was no immediate word on which way the jury was leaning — toward conviction or toward acquittal. 

The inconclusive end to the 2-month trial could leave the charges hanging over Menendez as he gears up for an expected run for reelection next year to the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim edge and the Democrats need every vote they can get. 

Menendez, 63, is accused of using his political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on Melgen's private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator directly or indirectly. 


10:20 a.m.: This story has been updated with the mistrial.

This story originally published at 9:17 a.m.

L.A. radio anchor says Al Franken forcibly kissed her during USO tour

Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio show anchor said that he had forcibly kissed her and later groped her on a 2006 USO tour, actions that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said should trigger a sexual harassment investigation.

Leeann Tweeden, a news anchor on KABC-AM’s “McIntyre in the Morning,” said in a post on the station’s website that Franken, then a professional comedy writer and performer, had written a skit for the USO tour in which they kissed, and he demanded that they rehearse the scene.

After Franken aggressively kissed her, Tweeden said, “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time ... I felt disgusted and violated.”

Tweeden said she found out later, from a CD of photographs taken of the tour, that Franken had groped her while she was sleeping on the plane ride from the Mideast to the United States. It is not clear from the photo whether Franken touched her, but Tweeden said he had.

“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me without my consent while I was asleep,” she said. 

Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who was elected senator in 2009, apologized in a statement released Thursday.

"I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."

McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the Senate Ethics Committee should review the matter.

“Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable — in the workplace or anywhere else,” he said in a statement.

The Franken episode followed repeated claims by women on Capitol Hill that they have been the target of groping and unwanted advances from men and that Congress lacks sufficient protections for them.

The issue of sexual aggressiveness has also marked the Alabama Senate race. Republican Roy Moore had been the frontrunner until a series of women came forward and asserted that he had made advances toward them when they were teens and he was a local prosecutor in his 30s.


9:05 a.m.: This article was updated with Sen. Al Franken's apology and other staff reporting.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.

Lower-income earners face tax increases under revised Senate bill, new congressional analysis says

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) (Win McNamee)
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) (Win McNamee)

Low-income earners would pay more in taxes starting in 2021 under a revised Senate Republican bill, according to a congressional analysis released Thursday.

People with incomes between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would see their overall taxes decrease in 2019 along with all earners, but that would reverse in 2021, according to a report from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

By 2023, people with incomes below $10,000 also would see increases.

All other income categories, including those earning more than $1 million a year, would see tax decreases through 2025.

But in 2027, taxes would go up overall for every income group under $75,000 because the revised Senate Republican bill calls for tax cuts and other changes to the individual code to expire at the end of 2025.

The large cut in the corporate tax rate, to 20% from 35%, would be permanent under the Republican bill.

The new analysis created another problem for Senate Republicans in their effort to pass a tax overhaul.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who drafted the bill, and other supporters have touted a Joint Committee on Taxation analysis of the original bill that showed tax decreases in all income categories to dispute Democratic criticism that the plan is tilted toward corporations and the wealthy.

Changes to the bill this week altered its overall effects. The revised Senate bill added a repeal of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires all Americans to have health insurance.

The Joint Committee on Taxation projected in its score of the revised bill that without that mandate, some low-income earners would opt not to buy healthcare coverage, so would not receive the Affordable Care Act's federal tax credits, Hatch said. Without those credits, their taxes would increase, Hatch said.

"We’re seeing some taxes go up because of a scoring assumption, not because of tax rates or policies," Hatch said at the start of a Finance Committee hearing Thursday. "Anyone who says we’re hiking taxes on low-income families is misstating the facts."

But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), called the report "jaw-dropping news."

"According to the latest figure in 2021, families earning $30,000 and under are going to get clobbered by a tax hike of nearly $6 billion to pay for this handout to multinational corporations," he said. "I believe this process ought to end right here and now."

In 2021, the analysis said, total federal taxes paid by people with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 would increase by $2.8 billion. And taxes paid by people with incomes between $20,000 and $30,000 would increase by $3 billion.

Those figures would rise in 2023 and 2025, the analysis said. Also, in 2023, taxes on people with incomes of less than $10,000 would increase by $178 million overall.

12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the Joint Committee on Taxation report.


Senior Democrat wants information from FBI on security clearance for Flynn's son

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), right, talks with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in the Capitol. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), right, talks with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in the Capitol. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wants the FBI to turn over information to Congress on any security clearance application filed by Michael Flynn Jr., the son of President Trump’s former national security advisor.

Flynn Jr. served as the chief of staff at his father’s private consulting company, the Flynn Intel Group, and also worked with the president’s transition team.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, requested information a year ago from Trump's transition team on security clearance applications, but Vice President Mike Pence did not respond, he said.

Cummings said the lack of a response and reports of foreign entanglements by Flynn and his son raised questions about “the lack of truthfulness” of Flynn Jr.

"These actions raise serious questions about the information Michael Flynn Jr. submitted in his security clearance application relating to his foreign contacts and foreign sources of funding,” Cummings said in a statement.

A lawyer for Flynn Jr. declined comment.


GOP, Democratic senators back bill to bolster FBI gun checks

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Republican and Democratic senators have joined forces on legislation to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers after the Air Force failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church.

Congress has taken no steps on guns in the weeks after deadly shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas. The bill, which has the backing of the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, would ensure that federal agencies, such as the Defense Department, and states accurately report relevant criminal information to the FBI.

The Air Force has acknowledged that the Texas shooter, Devin P. Kelley, should have had his name and domestic violence conviction submitted to the National Criminal Information Center database.

The bill would penalize federal agencies that fail to properly report required records and rewards states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.

Cornyn said agencies and state governments have for years failed to forward legally required records without consequences.

"Just one record that's not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas," Cornyn said. "This bill aims to help fix what's become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a fierce proponent of gun restrictions, said much more needs to be done on the issue of gun violence, but he believes the bill will help ensure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns.

"It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future," Murphy said.

The measure's prospects in the Senate are unclear despite Cornyn's backing, and it faces an uncertain future in the GOP-run House.

The bill would penalize agencies that fail to forward required information by prohibiting political appointees from receiving any bonus pay. The legislation also seeks to improve accountability by publicly reporting which agencies and states fail to provide the required records.

Anyone who purchases a gun from a federally licensed dealer must pass a background check. People convicted in any court of domestic violence are prohibited from buying a gun, but the Air Force has acknowledged that it failed to tell the FBI about the assault conviction for Kelley, a former airman who killed more than two dozen in the Texas church on Nov. 5. That failure made it possible for Kelley to acquire weapons that federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing after his 2012 conviction.

The Army has also said it failed to alert the FBI to soldiers' criminal histories in a "significant amount" of cases.

Peter Ambler, executive director of an organization named for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the victim of a shooting, said the bill was a step in the right direction.

"It's an important signal to states and federal agencies that Congress means business when it comes to ensuring a strong, effective background check system," said Ambler, whose organization works to strengthen gun laws.

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