U.S. orders Russia to close diplomatic offices in three cities

Share via

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

Trump could pay a price if he hands out pardons in the Russia inquiry as he did for Joe Arpaio

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump’s granting of a full pardon to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was seen by many legal experts as a sign of what may come in the special counsel’s inquiry into Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential race and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Trump has insisted the investigation led by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is a “witch hunt” and should be shut down, the sooner the better. Some predict that the president will use his power to pardon anyone at any time for nearly any reason to make the investigation moot.

“Kim Jong Un was not the only leader testing his weapons” last week, said Bill Yeomans, a veteran Justice Department lawyer now working with the liberal Alliance for Justice, referring to the North Korean leader’s missile launch a day after Trump pardoned Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.

“Trump launched a warning pardon that announced the weaponization of the pardon power,” Yeomans said.

Trump insiders who might benefit include Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and anyone else targeted by Mueller.

Read More

Share via

Trump is considering ending DACA, but hasn’t decided, aides say

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump is still reviewing whether to end the Obama-era program that has protected from deportation more than 750,000 people brought to the country illegally as children, senior White House officials said on Thursday.

The officials denied the president had decided to end it, in response to press reports that Trump would announce the decision perhaps Friday.

“My position here today is that the administration is still reviewing the policy,” Trump’s homeland security advisor, Tom Bossert, told reporters.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a decision to end the program “has not been finalized,” adding that it is being reviewed “from a legal perspective.”

Administration lawyers are studying whether the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, could withstand an expected legal challenge from conservative state attorneys general that could be filed in court as soon as Sept. 5.

Senior officials from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security met last week to discuss ways to end the program — whether to do so immediately, phase it out or decline to defend it in court.

Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail he would end the program and called it “unconstitutional.” But as president, he has said in interviews that he is sympathetic to people who were underage when they came into the country illegally and had nothing to do with the decision to come.

When Trump took office in January, aides had written an executive order that would have phased out the program by halting the renewal of two-year work permits issued to those who had submitted to a federal background check. Trump balked at signing the order.

But pressure on the president to act against DACA has continued to mount from hard-line supporters who see it as part of his promise to crack down on illegal immigration.

Share via

Congress expected to approve first Harvey relief funds as soon as next week, with more to follow

Congress will likely need to address Tropical Storm Harvey relief aid as soon as next week, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency quickly spending down its main disaster account.

Lawmakers already face a full September agenda when Congress resumes. But the fallout from Harvey and the need to swiftly provide assistance to disaster victims now tops the agenda.

“FEMA will likely run out of money before there’s a comprehensive number to address the entirety of the disaster response, so immediate action is needed,” said a senior Democratic aide.

As of early Wednesday, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund had $2.3 billion, including $1.4 billion in the major disaster account, which was projected to fall to $830 million with outlays for temporary housing and other pending obligations, according to internal reports.

A FEMA spokesman declined to say how quickly funding would be depleted.

But Tom Bossert, the White House Homeland Security advisor, said an initial request for funding from Congress was coming soon.

“We’re going to go up and ask for a disaster supplemental shortly,” Bossert said.

Bossert said he expected a multi-phase process, with a first request for supplemental funds coming quickly. A second, more substantial funding request would likely come later.

“I will make that request shortly,” he said. “What we’ll do is come back later for a second supplemental request.”

President Trump is set to convene congressional leaders at the White House on Sept. 6, but already House and Senate leaders are talking among themselves about what will be expected.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reached out to Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Monday and spoke with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Tuesday, pressing for emergency funds.

Congress has tangled over disaster funds in recent years, most markedly when Republicans voted in large numbers against relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, saying it should be paid for with funding cuts elsewhere. Even though Republicans held the majority in Congress, GOP leaders relied on Democrats for passage of that measure.

Both parties, though, appear poised to quickly approve disaster funds after Harvey swept through Texas and Louisiana, leaving more than 30 dead. Rain and floodwaters continue to menace the region.

The first tranche of funding may likely be proposed as a separate stand-alone bill, unclouded by other issues, to help ensure quick passage, despite the other must-pass measures requiring attention this fall.

Congress will have a dozen working days in session as it races to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government, averting a federal shutdown, and raise the debt limit to prevent a financial crisis, among other issues.

Conservatives, who have been reluctant to allow additional spending, warned against linking the relief to other measures.

Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have vowed to quickly address the needs.

“The Senate Appropriations Committee continues to monitor the situation in Texas and Louisiana and remains in contact with FEMA and other relevant authorities,” said Stephen Worley, a spokesman for the panel chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). “Chairman Cochran is prepared to respond quickly to any requests for supplemental appropriations for Hurricane Harvey response and recovery.”

Share via

Pentagon chief says he’s been ‘widely misinterpreted,’ denies any rift with Trump

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis moved Thursday to knock down speculation that he was at odds with the White House, less than a week after a video of him talking to troops about American values led to widespread speculation that he was criticizing President Trump.

In the impromptu speech to U.S. forces deployed in Jordan, which was surreptitiously recorded on cellphone video, Mattis talked about political divisiveness in the wake of the racially inspired violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“Our country, right now, it’s got problems that we don’t have in the military,” Mattis said. “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”

When the video became public and circulated widely on social media, many interpreted the remarks as a slight against Trump’s leadership.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, Mattis called that interpretation “ludicrous.” He was reiterating what the president had said about the need for unity, he said.

“If I say ‘six’ and the president says ‘half a dozen,’ they’re going to say I disagreed with him,” Mattis said during the unscheduled appearance at the Pentagon press room.

The video, however, was not the only instance in which Mattis appeared to be saying something different from the president.

On Wednesday, Mattis publicly emphasized diplomacy as the path forward in the increasingly tense situation with North Korea. The statement came just hours after Trump tweeted that “talking is not the answer” to the problems with the defiant communist country.

Pyongyang has fired 21 missiles during 14 tests since February. The latest missile test, which flew over northern Japan on Monday, had triggered Trump’s tweet.

Even though Mattis said the “solutions” to the North Korea problem were likely to be found through diplomatic channels, he emphasized Thursday that he did not disagree with the president.

“There was no contradiction,” he said. “I agree with the president that we should not be talking to a nation that’s firing missiles over the top of Japan, an ally.”

Mattis acknowledged, however, that there are issues on which he and Trump disagreed.

In one example that was widely publicized, Trump reconsidered his calls for resuming the practice of waterboarding of terrorism suspects after talking to Mattis. The president also warmed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance, which he had previously called “obsolete,” following consultation with Mattis.

“First time I met with President Trump, we disagreed on three things in the first 40 minutes I met with him — on NATO, no torture and something else — and he hired me,” Mattis said. “This is not a man who is immune to being persuaded if he thinks you’ve got an argument.”

Despite the initial disagreements with Trump, Mattis agreed to serve as Defense secretary even though that meant coming out of retirement and back into the public spotlight.

“When a president of the United States asks you to do something ... I don’t think it’s old-fashioned or anything, I don’t care if it’s a Republican or Democrat, we all have an obligation to serve,” he said Thursday. “That’s all there is to it. And so, you serve.”

More recently, Trump settled on a new military strategy in Afghanistan, largely shaped by Mattis’ advice, after months of bitter internal debates within his national security team.

Trump said in announcing the strategy that his initial instinct had ben to “pull out.”

Ultimately, he was persuaded by his generals — Mattis, national security advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to provide U.S. commanders with additional troops and broader authority to pursue militant forces in Afghanistan.

Mattis confirmed that he has signed the first deployment orders to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but would not specify how many were being sent.

A highly respected four-star Marine general before his retirement, Mattis is a hard-charging but scholarly figure who issued heavy reading lists to subordinates and who carried “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius on his deployments.

Trump likes to call him by the nickname “Mad Dog,” even though Mattis dislikes the moniker, dismissing it as something a “reporter came up with years ago on a slow news day.”

Share via

Former DeVry University official chosen by White House to head Education Department student aid enforcement unit

(J Pat Carter / Associated Press)

The Trump administration announced Thursday that a former official at for-profit DeVry University has been picked to head an Education Department unit that polices colleges for student aid fraud.

Last year, DeVry paid $100 million to settle federal claims it misled students.

Julian Schmoke Jr., who was an associate dean at DeVry from 2008 to 2012, will lead federal student aid enforcement activities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

“In addition to a track record of successfully advocating for students for more than 20 years, he brings experience in higher education leadership, instruction and accreditation, including serving in an academic capacity at DeVry University, where he ensured the delivery of a quality education to students,” the Education Department said in a news release.

“Dr. Schmoke will lead a team focused on identifying, investigating and adjudicating statutory and regulatory violations of the federal student aid programs and on resolving borrower defense claims,” the release said.

The move drew criticism given DeVry’s troubles and the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse an Obama administration crackdown on for-profit colleges.

Read More

Share via

U.S. orders Russia to close three diplomatic offices

Responding to a Russian government demand to drastically slash its diplomatic staff in Russia, the Trump administration Thursday ordered Moscow to close three of its consular offices in the United States.

Russia will be required to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, the chancery annex in Washington and the consular annex in New York, the State Department announced.

The move was the latest tit-for-tat action in worsening relations between Washington and Moscow, despite President Trump’s expressions of friendliness toward President Vladimir Putin.

Angered over a package of congressionally mandated economic sanctions, Russia had ordered the U.S. to cut its staff in Russia by around two-thirds, to 455.

Share via