As he investigates Trump's aides, special counsel's record shows surprising flaws

Essential Washington

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

Sen. Al Franken apologizes — again — as new misconduct allegations emerge

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Sen. Al Franken has apologized again for alleged inappropriate conduct as two more women emerged to accuse him of groping.

The Democrat from Minnesota said he was attempting to “regain trust” of his constituency even as some colleagues called for his resignation.

Following allegations that broke last week involving Franken’s inappropriately touching two women, another two women told Huffington Post that that senator displayed similar behavior with them. The latest two women were not identified. 

Franken has already apologized, saying that no offense was intended or that he did not recall the incidents in question. 

Franken said he was a “warm person” that may have been too effusive in meetings with women. He said he had met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, "often in crowded and chaotic situations."

Trump addresses troops, takes credit for 'win' in Afghanistan

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

President Trump on Thursday used a gratitude message to American troops overseas to take credit for a “win” in Afghanistan and to “give thanks to God” for freedom.

The unusual Thanksgiving message was delivered by Trump from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida over an internet connection to military men and women stationed near Kabul.

“I have to say just directly to the folks in Afghanistan: Everybody’s talking about the progress you’ve made in the last few months since I opened it up,” Trump said, according to pool reports.

“We opened it up. We said, ‘Go ahead; we’re going to fight to win.’ We’re not fighting anymore to just walk around. We’re fighting to win, and you people are really, you’ve turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody’s seen. And they are talking about it. So thank you very much.

“Brave, incredible fighters.”

Trump later visited a Coast Guard station Earlier via Twitter, Trump spoke of what he sees as his accomplishments in office: “Jobs coming back, highest Stock Market EVER, Military getting really strong, we will build the WALL”

The last was a reference to a barrier Trump wants to build along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.


Republican tax bill may add to deficit in violation of Senate's Byrd rule, report says

The House passed the Republican tax bill last week on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) None
The House passed the Republican tax bill last week on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The Senate Republican tax bill might have a so-called Byrd rule problem by adding to the federal deficit after 10 years, according to a report released Wednesday.

Forecasters at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania agreed that during the first decade, the tax plan stays within the $1.5 trillion in additional deficit spending allowed by Senate budget rules.

But by 2028, they said, the model shows $29 billion in additional deficit, and red ink continues for several more years. Eventually, the model shows revenues from expiring tax cuts and growth making up for the shortfall.

It’s a problem because under a rule named after former Sen. Robert Byrd, the Senate may not use a special budget reconciliation process to pass the tax bill if it adds anything to the deficit after 10 years. 

Republicans, working hard to avoid any violation, remain confident their final bill will comply with all budget rules, as senators prepare to consider the tax package next week.

Previous outside analyses showed similar deficit concerns, but Republicans said that as they revise the bill, official congressional scorekeepers are unlikely to find similar problems.


Roy Moore's Senate campaign is a train wreck. So why does he still have a decent shot at winning?

Roy Moore, the flailing Alabama candidate for U.S. Senate, has been abandoned by the national Republican Party and most of its leaders.

He’s being vastly outspent by his Democratic rival, pummeled on the television airwaves and battered in the state’s newspapers. “Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore,” Alabama’s three leading papers thundered in a joint editorial emblazoned on Sunday’s front pages.

And yet with just about two weeks to go until the Dec. 12 vote, the race is far from over.

Moore has been accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct, including molestation of a 14-year-old girl and assault of a 16-year-old when he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s. Moore, 70, adamantly denies the charges, saying they have been conjured up by enemies and a political establishment that cannot abide his staunch Christian conservatism.

While President Trump has effectively endorsed Moore, questioning the allegations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan are among the many GOP high-ups urging Moore to step aside. The Republican National Committee and its Senate campaign arm have walked away from his campaign.

But even some who believe the allegations are sticking by Moore. To their mind, there is something even worse than elevating an accused sexual predator to the United States Senate: electing a Democrat.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton apologizes for nude photo on Twitter

Rep. Joe Barton (Associated Press)
Rep. Joe Barton (Associated Press)

Texas Rep. Joe Barton is apologizing after a nude photo of him circulated on social media. 

Barton released a statement Wednesday to the Texas Tribune acknowledging that while separated from his second wife, prior to their divorce, he had sexual relationships “with other mature adult women.” 

The 68-year-old Republican from Ennis says each relationship was consensual and since has ended. He says, “I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.” 

Barton announced his reelection bid this month. The photo appeared on an anonymous Twitter account. 

His spokeswoman told the Dallas Morning News that Barton has no plans to step down. 

Barton joined the U.S. House in 1985. He is the longest-serving member of Congress from Texas. 

Trump calls LaVar Ball, father of freed UCLA player, an ‘ungrateful fool'

LaVar Ball, father of the Lakers' Lonzo Ball and UCLA player LiAngelo Ball, watches a Lakers game in Vegas in July. (John Locher / Associated Press)
LaVar Ball, father of the Lakers' Lonzo Ball and UCLA player LiAngelo Ball, watches a Lakers game in Vegas in July. (John Locher / Associated Press)

In a way, it’s the matchup sports fans have been waiting for.

In one corner: famous sports dad LaVar Ball, who has risen to notoriety by being the father of the NBA Lakers' Lonzo Ball, UCLA player LiAngelo Ball and high schooler LaMelo Ball.

In the other corner: the president of the United States, Donald Trump (who also has famous kids, but that’s for another story).

Both are brash. Both are highly quotable. Both seem to make news no matter what they say or do. And now they’re both fighting.

Early Wednesday morning, the president called Ball an “ungrateful fool” on Twitter, continuing the pair’s public spat after Ball’s son LiAngelo was detained in China along with two other UCLA players on suspicion of shoplifting.

Ball has refused to give Trump credit for helping secure the players’ return to the U.S., even suggesting that Ball himself helped secure his son’s release — which apparently infuriated the president.

“It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence - IT WAS ME,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning.

“Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair,” Trump continued, referring to the flamboyant boxing promoter. “Just think LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!”

Trump had previously vented his frustration with Ball on Sunday, tweeting of the UCLA players, “I should have left them in jail!”

UCLA players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill had traveled with their team for an exhibition game in China when they were placed under house arrest at their hotel in Hangzhou, China, on Nov. 6 in connection with a shoplifting report at a luxury store near their hotel.

The players were released Nov. 14, and Trump credited the intervention of Chinese President Xi Jinping. But in recent interviews, Ball has expressed skepticism about Trump’s role.

"Who?" Ball told ESPN when asked about Trump. "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out."

Ball added to CNN, “If I was going to thank somebody I'd probably thank President Xi.”

If Trump had helped, "you shouldn't have to say anything,” Ball told the television network. “Let him do his political affairs and let me handle my son and let's just stay in our lane."

Ball added: "Tell Donald Trump to have a great Thanksgiving.”

Accused Manhattan terrorist will face murder and terrorism charges in a New York courtroom

A photo of accused terrorist Sayfullo Saipov is displayed at a news conference after his arrest. (Craig Ruttle / Associated Press)
A photo of accused terrorist Sayfullo Saipov is displayed at a news conference after his arrest. (Craig Ruttle / Associated Press)

The man accused of driving a van onto a crowded Manhattan sidewalk in an attack inspired by Islamic State, killing eight people and injuring 12 others, will face murder and terrorism charges in federal court in New York.

Immediately after the attacks, President Trump said he would consider detaining Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov at the prison camp on the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but later backed off and said it would be better to allow him to face justice in New York, where prosecutors have become practiced at terrorism trials.

A grand jury in New York on Tuesday indicted Saipov, 29, on eight counts of murder and 12 counts of attempted murder in the Oct. 31 attack. He also faces charges of providing support to a terrorist group and causing death with a vehicle.

“Like many terrorists before him, Saipov will now face justice in an American court,” said Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, adding that “we expect justice in this case will be swift, firm and resolute.”

Saipov, a truck driver who emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2010, told investigators he was inspired to carry out the attack by watching Islamic State videos on his phone, according to court papers in the case. He rented the truck a week earlier so he could practice making turns, then drove it down a crowded bikeway along the West Side Highway before he collided with a school bus.

He shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or "God is great," as he jumped out of the truck, authorities said. He was shot by a New York police officer.

In a tweet after the attack, Trump noted that Saipov had asked to hang the Islamic State flag in his hospital room. “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump wrote.

Trump was immediately criticized for potentially interfering in a criminal case, traditionally considered off limits for presidents. Prosecutors have not said whether they plan to seek the death penalty.

Trump backs Roy Moore: 'He denies it'

President Trump backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, avowing his support for the first time since Moore was accused of making advances against teenage girls years ago and molesting at least two.

“He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to spend Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “I do have to say, 40 years is a long time.”

Trump also criticized Moore’s Democratic rival, Doug Jones, in the special election Dec. 12 to fill the seat held by Jeff Sessions before he became Trump’s attorney general.

“I can tell you one thing for sure. We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones,” Trump said. “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military.”

Trump even left the door open for campaigning on behalf of Moore. “I’ll be letting you know next week,” he said.

The issue puts the president in a potentially awkward position, given that the “Access Hollywood” recording nearly derailed his campaign and that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior.

“Women are very special,” Trump said of the broader issue. “I think it’s a very special time. A lot of things are coming out and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women.”

Trump endorses Roy Moore's denial of sexual misconduct


House opens ethics investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Rep. John Conyers

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) speaks in Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times) None
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) speaks in Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday it has opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) other and top Democrats had called for the probe.

“As members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse,” Pelosi said. “As I have said before, any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee.”

Conyers said he will cooperate with an investigation, but denied wrongdoing. The 27-term congressman, and top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, settled with a former staff member who alleged she was fired after refusing his advances, according to a report Tuesday by BuzzFeed.

“In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” Conyers said in a statement. “My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.  That should not be lost in the narrative.”

The Ethics Committee announced late Tuesday it opened an investigation. 

Pelosi and the No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, also pushed for swift reforms to the process used on Capitol Hill for reporting sexual misconduct, as proposed by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). 

“This report is very disturbing,” Hoyer said. “The House ought to observe a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination, and I believe an ethics investigation is an appropriate next step.”


Revised Senate plan would raise taxes for some, add to long-term debt, new reports find

From left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, talk about the Senate's tax bill at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press) None
From left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, talk about the Senate's tax bill at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Almost one in 10 taxpayers would initially see a tax hike under the revised Senate Republican tax plan, and the proposal would add as much as $2.4 trillion in long-term debt, according to two new analyses raising fresh concerns ahead of next week’s expected Senate vote.

The Tax Policy Center said that while taxes on average would be reduced across all income groups under the plan, 9% of taxpayers would pay more in 2019 and half would pay more by 2027, as the tax cuts for individuals expire. Lower-income households would initially see average tax cuts of $50 a year, about 0.3% of after-tax income, while upper-income households would see cuts of more than $12,000, or 3.5% of after-tax income.

At the same time, a Penn Wharton budget model released Tuesday said revenues would fall between $1.3 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2027, on par with other outside analyses, but in the next decade, revenues would fall between $1.1 trillion and $2.1 trillion, increasing the federal debt by $1.7 trillion to $2.4 trillion by 2040. 

That’s less than earlier projections of up to $7 trillion in debt, before Senate Republicans revised the bill to keep costs down, in part by allowing the individual tax cuts to expire. But it may still concern some budget hawks.

Under both the House and Senate bills, the corporate rate cut, from 35% to 20% would be permanent, because, Republicans argue, lower business taxes will spur economic growth.  

Tuesday’s Penn Wharton report said growth would be between 0.3% and 0.8% higher in 2027 than without the Senate package, also similar to earlier projections.

U.S. puts more sanctions on North Korea backers

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

The Trump administration Tuesday slapped new sanctions on companies and transport systems that support North Korea as part of a campaign aimed at punishing the country for its nuclear program.

A day after President Trump reinstated Pyongyang to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the administration sanctioned one person, 13 companies and 20 vessels for their “long-standing commercial ties to North Korea” or as “transportation networks that facilitate North Korea’s revenue generation and operations.”

Most of the vessels were cargo ships with North Korean flags. One of the companies, the South-South Cooperation Corporation, supplied workers to China, Russia, Cambodia and Poland. The United States has called on countries the world over to stop hiring North Korean workers, whose salaries mostly go to their government.

The sanctions are the latest in a long line that have yet to deter Kim Jong Un from pursuing nuclear weapons.

“As North Korea continues to threaten international peace and security, we are steadfast in our determination to maximize economic pressure to isolate it from outside sources of trade and revenue while exposing its evasive tactics,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the new sanctions. 

On Monday, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Iran, Syria and Sudan, and threatened to continue to tighten punishment of the isolated government.



Former Trump campaign aides facing criminal charges won't need to be home for the holiday

Paul Manafort, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington last month. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Paul Manafort, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington last month. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, two of President Trump’s former campaign aides who are under indictment in the special counsel investigation, will be able to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, a federal judge decided Tuesday. 

The two men have been under house arrest since last month, when they were arrested on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and fraud.

Manafort served as Trump’s campaign manager, and Gates was his deputy. They’ve pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors said after their arrests that with their extensive connections overseas, the men might be flight risks.

There are some conditions to their holiday travel. They must report where they’re going, continue wearing GPS devices and abstain from drinking, the judge ruled.

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey

FCC chairman proposes repeal of net neutrality regulations

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed repealing tough net neutrality rules for online traffic, following through on a promise earlier this year to roll back the controversial Obama-era regulations.

Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Trump, opposed the rules when they were enacted in 2014, when the FCC was controlled by Democrats.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Pai said in a written statement.

Trump and Putin to speak today, White House says

President Donald Trumpchats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting on November 11, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev / AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trumpchats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting on November 11, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev / AFP/Getty Images)

The White House says President Donald Trump plans to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Trump and Putin spoke informally several times last week when they attended a summit in Vietnam. They agreed on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria.

Trump's conversation with the Russian president will follow Putin's Monday meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd). Putin hosted Assad at a Black Sea resort ahead of a summit later this week with Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that Assad was called to Russia to get him to agree to potential peace initiatives drafted by Russia, Iran and Turkey as Russia prepares to scale back its military presence in Syria's six-year war.

59,000 Haitians living in U.S. must leave within 18 months, Trump administration says

 (Hector Retamal / AFP-Getty Images)
(Hector Retamal / AFP-Getty Images)

Some 59,000 Haitians living in the U.S. under temporary status must leave within 18 months, the Trump administration announced Monday.

More than 30,000 of the Haitians affected by the order live in Florida, with another large concentration in New York City.

Haitians who entered the U.S. illegally have been protected against deportation since 2010 under a program known as Temporary Protected Status, which Congress created during the 1990s to avoid sending large numbers of people back to areas suffering from wars or natural disasters.

In Haiti’s case, the temporary status was granted in 2010, after a powerful earthquake devastated the island, which has long been among the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere.

In May, John F. Kelly, who was the secretary of Homeland Security at the time, said that conditions in Haiti had improved enough that the U.S. would be unlikely to continue extending the temporary protection. At the time, he extended Haitians’ protected status for six months, but urged them to prepare to leave the U.S.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke reaffirmed that decision Monday, but provided an 18-month delay, until July 22, 2019, before the order to leave will become effective. Some of the Haitians currently covered by temporary status will be able to stay if they have other claims for legal immigration status, administration officials said. 

White House says Trump spoke rhetorically on Twitter; does not regret helping UCLA players come home

UCLA freshmen, from left, Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill admitted to shoplifting while in China in a press conference at Pauley Pavilion. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA freshmen, from left, Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill admitted to shoplifting while in China in a press conference at Pauley Pavilion. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump does not regret his role in helping to free three UCLA basketball players from detention in China last week, his spokeswoman said on Monday, though his weekend complaint on Twitter suggested otherwise.

"It was a rhetorical response to a criticism by the father," Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said at a press briefing in response to questions about Trump’s tweet on Sunday that he “should have left them in jail!”

Trump posted that message on Twitter after LaVar Ball, the father of one of the players detained on suspicion of shoplifting, LiAngelo Ball, publicly downplayed Trump’s role in securing their release. The three players had expressed thanks to Trump, among others; even before that, however, Trump had tweeted his expectation that they show their gratitude to him. 

Sanders said, “The president was happy to see the release of these individuals and have them back in the United States."


Tillerson disputes reports of low morale in State Department

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

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday defended his department against mounting reports of low morale and unease among staff with its direction.

Tillerson has launched a major “redesign” of the unwieldy agency but was blasted last week by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for his handling of the process, which some blame for driving out many veteran diplomats.

Tillerson’s spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, acknowledged on Friday for the first time that there were morale problems at the department.

But Tillerson disputed that characterization on Monday and, as he has had to do several times this year, defended his management.

”The redesign is going to address all of that,” Tillerson said during a brief appearance with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.

“And this department is performing extraordinarily well, and I take exception to anyone who characterizes otherwise,” Tillerson said. “It’s just not true.”

EconomyWhite House

Yellen to step down from Fed board when her successor as chair is sworn in

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

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen submitted her resignation Monday, effective when her successor is sworn in, providing President Trump another seat to fill on the central bank’s board.

Trump decided not to renominate Yellen, 71, to lead the Fed, opting this month to tap Fed Gov. Jerome H. Powell instead.

Yellen’s four-year term as the first woman to chair the Fed Board of Governors expires on Feb. 3. Her term as a board member doesn’t end until January 2024 and she could have stayed on the Fed board until then.

But it’s standard practice for a Fed leader to step down once his or her term as chair ends. Yellen’s decision was expected and now will give Trump four seats to fill on the seven-member board.

One of Trump’s picks, Randal Quarles, took office last month.

In her resignation letter to Trump, Yellen said it was a “great privilege and honor” to serve at the Fed in different roles dating back to her first stint on the board from 1994-97. Yellen also was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004-10.

She joined the board again in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis and served as vice chair under Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

Yellen was a strong ally of Bernanke as he kept interest rates near zero and had the Fed purchase trillions of dollars in bonds to try to stimulate the economy. She took over as chairwoman in 2014 after being nominated by former President Obama and continued to strongly advocate for the tougher financial regulations adopted after the crisis.

“As I prepare to leave the board, I am gratified that the financial system is much stronger than a decade ago, better able to withstand future bouts of instability and continue supporting the economic aspirations of American families and businesses,” she wrote to Trump. “I am also gratified by the substantial improvement in the economy since the crisis.”

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World