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Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

President Donald Trump on Thursday said the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election reflects poorly on national unity.

“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” Trump said, according to ABC’s David Muir. Trump’s comments came in a luncheon at the White House with network anchors.

Trump said, according to Muir, that the Russia probe is “a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won.”

“That’s all this is. I think it shows division, and it shows that we’re not together as a country,” he said. “And I think it’s a very, very negative thing. And hopefully, this can go quickly.”

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Trump’s initial response was measured.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said in a statement Wednesday evening. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”

On Thursday morning, however, Trump dispelled that illusion in one of his trademark morning tweet storms.

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” he tweeted.

President Donald Trump canceled a planned speech at the historic mountain fortress of Masada in Israel after learning that he could not land a helicopter at the site, Newsweek reported on Thursday.

Israeli media outlets reported that Trump had been scheduled to give his main speech on the Israeli leg of his upcoming trip abroad at the UNESCO World Heritage site. But he is now slated to speak at the Israel Museum instead, according to Newsweek.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that Trump would not be able to land a helicopter on top of the fortress and would need to take a cable car up the mountain instead, as former President George W. Bush did when he visited.

“The Americans will land in the Bar Yehuda landing strip,” the director of Masada National Park, Eitan Campbell, told the Jerusalem Post prior to Trump’s reported change of plans. “They will go up to the mountain by cable car.”

Trump’s interest in the site appears to predate his political career: According to a report in the Atlantic citing Eran Sidis, a spokesman for the speaker of the Knesset, Trump made inquiries six years ago to see if he could host the Miss Universe pageant at the historical site.

Campbell told the Jerusalem Post that helicopters have been barred from landing atop Masada since the 1990s, as sand and gusts of wind thrown up by the propellers cause “damage to the antiquities.”

Former President Bill Clinton had an even more arduous trek to the summit, according to Campbell: “He came up with the old cable car and walked up 100 steps.”

Given that Trump’s idea of exercise is holding campaign rallies, as he told the New York Times in 2015, the cancellation may be for the best.

House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced on Thursday he plans to resign from Congress on June 30.

“This week I sent a letter to Governor Herbert indicating my intention to resign from Congress effective June 30, 2017,” Chaffetz said in a letter to constituents, referring to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R).

Politico first reported Chaffetz’s plans to make the announcement on Thursday, citing three unnamed sources familiar with the lawmaker’s plans.

The House Oversight chairman announced in April that he would not seek another term in 2018 and had “made a personal decision to return to the private sector.” He later cited his lifestyle as one of the reasons he plans to leave Congress, saying, “I just turned 50. I’m sleeping on a cot in my office.”

His lifestyle may be about to get a lot cushier.

The Washingtonian reported in May that Chaffetz told colleagues he planned to take an on-air role at Fox News as early as July. Politico also reported, citing several unnamed “sources in the Capitol,” that Chaffetz has told colleagues that he will appear on Fox News.

And the report of Chaffetz’s sooner-than-expected departure from Congress comes at a time when he just got his powerful oversight panel a piece of the investigatory action around the growing scandals coming out of the White House.

In the wake of a bombshell New York Times report that then-FBI Director James Comey reportedly documented a request from President Donald Trump to shut down his bureau’s investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Chaffetz said he had his “subpoena pen ready” to get Comey’s memo.

Chaffetz announced on Twitter Wednesday that he had scheduled a hearing for next week and was trying to get Comey to testify, but apparently could not reach the former FBI director.

“I still need to speak with him,” Chaffetz tweeted, speculating that Comey “evidently has a new” phone number.

Less than 24 hours later, however, he expressed doubt that the memo actually existed.

“I question whether or not they’re actually there,” Chaffetz said of the memos Comey reportedly took down. “Nobody’s seen them.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer won’t be meeting the press quite as often once President Donald Trump returns from his first trip abroad, Politico reported on Thursday.

Spicer isn’t expected to give the daily briefing on camera after Trump gets back from his first international trip as President, Politico reported, citing several unnamed officials familiar with his thinking. Those officials told Politico that Trump no longer wants Spicer, whose crisis-control briefings have spawned crises of their own, to publicly defend his administration.

One senior administration official said that Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will take over more briefings, while another told Politico that there will likely be fewer on-camera briefings overall. Spicer declined to comment for the article.

Axios and the New York Times reported last week that Trump was considering making broad changes to his senior staff in the wake of backlash to his abrupt firing of James Comey as head of the FBI. The White House did not anticipate, and was not prepared for, the fierce reaction to the move.

Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle on Monday said she was in talks with Trump’s administration about replacing Spicer, but later appeared to walk that back, saying that her current job as a co-host of “The Five” is “tough to beat.”

With Spicer absent last week on U.S. Navy Reserve duty, Sanders took the podium for two press briefings in the chaotic aftermath of Comey’s termination. Spicer then replaced two on-camera briefings with off-camera press gaggles this week in the wake of yet more bombshell reports, on the President’s sharing highly classified information with top Russian diplomats and allegedly asking Comey to quash an investigation into his former national security adviser.

Trump seemed equivocal on Spicer’s future job prospects last week, telling Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro that the press secretary was “doing a good job, but he gets beat up.”

Asked whether Spicer will remain behind the podium, Trump said only, “Yeah, well, he’s been there from the beginning.”

CNN reporter Michelle Kosinski on Wednesday alleged that a State Department communications adviser demanded that she reveal her sources or else be cut off from further access to the agency.

Kosinski wrote in a Facebook post she headlined “This Is How Your Government Responds to Unfavorable News Coverage” that R.C. Hammond (pictured above), communications adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, leveled personal attacks against her and ultimately resorted to threats when she refused his demands.

“He kicked off the conversation with a venomously irate ‘What the hell are you doing??!!'” Kosinski wrote.

She said Hammond then asked her to “at least tell him what jobs” her sources held at the State Department.

“I had to explain to him that wasn’t how it worked,” Kosinski wrote. “This, mind you, is someone employed by the US government to act as a communications professional.”

She went on to say Hammond then told her she was losing the “shred of credibility” she had left, and subsequently threatened to cut her off from State Department information and responses.

Kosinski wrote that she asked Hammond to “name one time he had ever shared information” with her or responded to an email she sent.

According to Kosinski, Hammond explained his unresponsiveness like so: “WE don’t think you’re smart enough to HANDLE OUR information!!!!”

The State Department did not immediately respond late Wednesday to TPM’s request for comment.

This is How Your Government Responds to Unfavorable News CoverageMonday night, as the story of the President giving…

Posted by Michelle Kosinski on Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yes, you read that right: President Donald Trump is considering former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) as his new FBI director.

According to a travel pool report, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump is slated to meet Wednesday afternoon with four candidates to replace fired FBI Director James Comey.

On Trump’s agenda, according to Spicer, are meetings with Lieberman, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating and former top FBI official Richard McFeely.

The last time Lieberman’s name was floated on the stage of national politics came when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested that President Barack Obama appoint him as secretary of defense.

MSNBC reported that Lieberman was cagey about whether he’d take the job if Trump offered it to him, saying, “I’d rather not say.”

According to MSNBC, Lieberman went on to say that he was not seeking the position and had not expected to be considered.

 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday said President Donald Trump “wants to get to the bottom” of reports that fired FBI Director James Comey documented a conversation in which Trump asked him to shut down the bureau’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Gaggling with reporters aboard Air Force One, Spicer declined to say whether Trump would be willing to waive executive privilege about his conversations with Comey.

“He wants the truth in these investigations, to get to the bottom of this situation,” Spicer told reporters. “There’s two investigations going on in the House and Senate and he wants to get to the bottom of this.”

The press secretary didn’t offer much more on the bombshell New York Times report, saying only, “The President has been very clear that the account that’s been published is not an accurate description of how the event occurred.”

Trump, who is usually quick to respond to unflattering news coverage, in fact has not commented directly on the report, and has not tweeted in almost 24 hours. He did, however, make an oblique reference to incidents “that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted” in a commencement speech Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Pressed on Trump’s uncharacteristic Twitter silence, Spicer said he has “been clear” on the White House’s position and did not offer any further explanation for the ongoing lull.

House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) let his Twitter followers know Wednesday that he is trying to get former FBI Director James Comey to testify at a hearing next week.

Chaffetz announced on Twitter that he scheduled a hearing for May 24 at 9:30 a.m. ET—but has yet to speak with Comey about it. He speculated that the fired FBI director “evidently has a new” phone number:

Last week, the House Oversight chair called for the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Comey’s termination.

In the wake of a subsequent, bombshell New York Times report that Comey documented a request President Donald Trump made for him to shut down an FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Chaffetz said the committee “is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists.”

“I need to see it sooner rather than later,” he said. “I have my subpoena pen ready.”

Later Tuesday evening, Chaffetz sent a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe requesting “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications” between Trump and Comey.

When President Donald Trump casually shared highly classified intel with top Russian diplomats last week, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who was in the room, did not immediately realize the significance of what Trump divulged, according to an NBC News report out Wednesday.

Citing an unnamed U.S. official with direct knowledge of the matter, NBC reported that McMaster “is not steeped in counterterrorism” and thus was not immediately aware of the importance of the information Trump gave to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The Washington Post first reported on Monday that Trump had shared with the top diplomats information regarding an Islamic State threat, which had been provided by an ally who did not authorize the United States to disclose it. White House counterterrorism adviser Tom Bossert contacted officials at the CIA and NSA after the meeting to try to prevent further damage, according to the report.

NBC News reported that Bossert wasn’t even in the meeting, and only learned of Trump’s remarks from notes that he read immediately after it concluded.

McMaster told reporters on Monday evening that the Washington Post story “as reported” was “false,” but Trump blew up that spin Tuesday in a pair of early-morning tweets admitting that he shared “facts” with Russian officials.

Speaking from the White House briefing room later Tuesday, McMaster did not deny that Trump shared classified information and confirmed that the CIA and NSA were indeed contacted out of an “overabundance of caution” following the meeting.

“If there was nothing the President shared that he shouldn’t have shared, why did they contact the NSA and CIA?” a reporter asked.

“I would say an overabundance of caution but I’m not sure,” McMaster replied. “I’ve not talked to him about that. About why he reached out.”

President Donald Trump couldn’t resist hijacking his own commencement speech Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to complain about how he’s been treated in the wake of the various scandals that have rocked the White House over the past two weeks.

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” he griped, to laughter from the crowd. “Especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

The commencement remarks were Trump’s first public comments since the New York Times reported Tuesday that he asked then-FBI Director James Comey to shut down his bureau’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a request that Comey documented in a memo. The President, usually quick to weigh in on such reports on Twitter, fell silent and has not tweeted in almost a day.

Trump on Wednesday advised cadets that over the course of their lives, they will need to “fight, fight, fight.”

“Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted,” he said, possibly in reference to bombshell reports that he disclosed highly classified information to top Russian diplomats and asked Comey to quash the investigation into Flynn.

Trump also pumped up his own presidency so far, crowing that he has “accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time.”

He drew a parallel between the cadets’ commencement ceremony and his first international trip since taking office, which is scheduled to begin on Friday.

“As you leave this academy to embark on your exciting new voyage,” Trump said, “I am heading on a very crucial journey, as well. In a few days, I will make my first trip abroad as President.”

He ended his remarks by thanking cadets and congratulating them.

“Things will work out just fine,” Trump said. “Great honor. Good luck. Enjoy your life.”

Watch below:

This post has been updated.

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