Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mattshuham.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested Thursday night that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was becoming a “fishing expedition” as it looks into President Donald Trump and his family’s business dealings.
In an interview with Conway, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked for reaction to two fresh news items: that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election; and that, according to Reuters, grand jury subpoenas had been issued in connection with the July 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to aide Donald Trump’s campaign.
“Grand jury proceedings are supposed to remain private,” Conway began. “So it’s unfortunate that that’s not the case here.”
Conway referred to a statement put out Ty Cobb, a personal lawyer of Trump’s, that said“[t]he White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion” of the special counsel probe “fairly.” Another outside Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow, said the grand jury news was “not a surprise.”
Cuomo asked Conway if Mueller’s looking into Trump’s business empire, and the business ventures of his family members, crossed any “red lines” for the President, as Trump had suggested in a recent New York Times interview.
“The President has said that Jim Comey, the former FBI director, assured him on three separate occasions that he is not personally a target of any investigation,” Conway said. “We know that these types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions. They’re a very broadly-cast net, and I would remind everybody that, in terms of President Trump, he has said that he has no financial dealings with Russia whatsoever.”
Trump administration officials and surrogates have repeatedly claimed that Trump has no business in Russia, although the President’s ties to the country’s business community have been documentedextensively and are part of Mueller’s investigation. It’s impossible to know the full extent of the President’s business relationships without his tax returns, which he has refused to release.
The Times noted that Justice did not endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016, and was elected to his first term in the governor’s mansion in November with a significantly smaller margin of victory than that with which Trump won the state.
In February 2015, ahead of his campaign for governor, Justice switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, the Wall Street Journal noted at the time.
Justice, a camera-friendly billionaire-turned-politician in the Trumpian mold, called the press to the governor’s mansion in April to unveil a plate of bull feces — his metaphor for the state legislature’s proposed budget, what he called “a bunch of political bull-you-know-what.”
Not everyone got the memo of Justice’s plans to switch parties, however. Just hours before the Times reported the news, West Virginia’s Republican Party attacked Justice on Twitter, linking to a Charleston Gazette-Mail story on the state’s Division of Highways awarding contracts to a company whose founder pled guilty to involvement in a kickback scheme.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his expanding team of investigators have turned their attention to President Donald Trump, his company and his family’s business ties with Russia, CNN reported Thursday.
Such probing runs afoul of Trump’s supposed “red line” to the New York Times: that Mueller and his investigators ought not look into his business ties beyond what is directly relevant to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mueller’s investigation into Trump and his affiliates’ businesses has been reported previously — most recently by Bloomberg on July 20, and others. However, CNN’s reporting more extensively details the broadening scope of Mueller’s investigation:
[T]he FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They’ve combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They’ve looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.
“This is like any investigation,” one unnamed person briefed on the investigation told CNN. “You start at the core and then move to the periphery. You have to explore the finances. Where this is going is no different from any investigation.”
White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed could apply sufficient pressure on the Chinese government to force them to intervene in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“What card left do you have to get China to act?” Fox News’ Bill Hemmer asked Gorka, after referencing an op-ed in a state-owned Chinese newspaper that downplayed the influence China has over North Korea.
Trump has raged at China for not doing more in the face of increased North Korean missile testing.
“We have the President’s Twitter feed,” Gorka responded. “We have the most powerful man in the world making it very clear that we came out of the Mar-a-Lago summit with very high hopes.”
Gorka — a controversial member of the Trump administration, given his affiliations with right-wing nationalist groups tied to anti-Semitism and the targeting of Roma people, among other things — said China’s use of North Korea as a “buffer state” was not be worth the instability that the missile tests brought the region.
Hemmer returned to Gorka’s earlier comment: “With all due respect, can a Twitter feed change the mind of those leading China?”
“If you can win a U.S. election with it, I think it’s pretty powerful, Bill, don’t you?” Gorka replied.
Sebastian Gorka asked on Fox what Trump can do to pressure China over North Korea. Gorka: “We have the president’s Twitter feed.” pic.twitter.com/7VuraoKPMw
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) said Thursday that “no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall” and that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico was a “metaphor for border security.”
The comments came in response to a transcript published by the Washington Post of a call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the Mexican leader maintained there was no way Mexico would pay for the wall, contradicting Trump’s endless campaign promises to Americans that the country would. Trump told Peña Nieto in the call that the issue of payment “is the least important thing,” but that, politically, it “might be the most important.”
“What do you make of that?” CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked Rooney, after referencing a passage in the transcript in which Trump told Peña Nieto he cannot talk about not paying for the wall to the press.
“It’s another bit of campaign rhetoric,” Rooney responded. “It’s highly unusual. But I don’t think anyone during the campaign seriously thought that Mexico would pay for that wall, even though we desperately believed in the wall as a metaphor for border security.”
CNN’s John Berman pointed out that Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall “at every rally he gave.”
“You don’t think that was a campaign promise?” Berman asked.
“These campaigns are full of all kinds of comments: promises, commitments, expressions, vitriolic diatribe. And once the campaign is over, it’s time to move on to governing,” Rooney said.
Harlow pointed out that Trump had brought up Mexico paying for the wall even after the election. She asked if Rooney was comfortable with Trump misleading the public about his discussion with Peña Nieto.
“I think it would have been better had he not distracted the discussion of border security by bringing up who is going to pay for the wall and what kind of wall it would be,” Rooney said. “We have a lot of ways that we can strengthen our border, and physical barriers are one, technology is another. I think we need to be getting about doing that.”
“Knowing what you know from the transcript, which the White House is not disputing openly, do you think he was straight and honest with the American people?” Harlow asked.
“I don’t think anyone really thought that the Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” Rooney said. “I mean, regardless of a boisterous campaign or post-campaign comment. These politicians — these professional politicians make comments all the time. President Trump was not a professional politician, so maybe he made even some more comments that might be disputed later.”
“But the bottom line is no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” he continued. “And no one would believe that we don’t need to secure our border. So those are two asymmetrical concepts there.”
Though Rooney never called for Mexico to pay for a border wall during his own run for Congress in 2016, his first such campaign, the big-name GOP donor and one-time ambassador to the Holy See did advocate strongly for a border wall.
One of his advertisements was literally called “Wall.” In it, he bragged about his experience in the construction industry: “So I know a thing or two about building walls.”
“In Congress, I’ll fight to build a big one on our southern border,” he said.
President Donald Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a private phone call that whether or not Mexico paid for Trump’s proposed border wall “is the least important thing,” but that the Mexican President could not say so in public, according a transcript of the call published by the Washington Post Thursday.
A day before the call, on Jan. 26, Peña Nieto cancelled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington, D.C., as Trump continued to insist that Mexico would pay for the border wall. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” Trump wrote.
On Jan. 27, after the call, both leaders released statements saying they had agreed not to discuss wall payment, acknowledging that they had differences of opinion.
“[Y]ou and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall,” Trump said. “From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall.”
“I am just going to say that we are working it out,” Trump continued. “Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about.”
Later, Peña Nieto returned to the wall, and made his position clear: “I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient,” he said. “But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”
“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump replied. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”
Peña Nieto responded: “I understand you well, Mr. President.”
Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) plan to introduce legislation meant to shield Department of Justice special counsels from political influence — with an eye toward protecting Robert Mueller, the special counsel at the head of the department’s Russian election meddling investigation and a target of the Trump administration.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Tillis and Coons’ legislation would allow any Justice Department special counsel to challenge his or her firing in court, and to have it reviewed by a three-judge panel. The bill would apply retroactively to May 17, 2017, AP reported — the day Mueller was assigned as a special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Mueller has the support of a broad, bipartisan swath of Congress, who largely saw his appointment as an opportunity to turn the legislature’s attention back to policy priorities.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has reportedly raged at Mueller’s investigation. Political allies like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Trump himself, have attacked Mueller for his working friendship with ousted FBI Director James Comey, and for the investigators working under him who have donated to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.
In an interview with the New York Times in July, Trump agreed that Mueller would be crossing a line if he, in words of a Times reporter, “was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia.”
Tillis and Coons both characterized the legislation as an important safeguard against executive overreach.
“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis told AP. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”
Coons added: “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”
A White House press briefing focused on President Donald Trump’s proposed changes to the green card application process spiraled out of control Wednesday, with White House adviser Stephen Miller accusing CNN’s Jim Acosta of bad faith and ignorance after Acosta said the bill appeared like an attempt to “engineer a racial and ethnic flow” of immigrants.
The bill, which Trump announced Wednesday alongside Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), would prioritize green card applicants based on things like English-speaking ability and job skills.
“The Statue of Liberty says give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free — doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer,” Acosta told Miller. “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them, you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?
Miller eventually said the sentiment wasn’t relevant: “In 1970, when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land?” he asked rhetorically.
The conversation went off the rails. At one point, Acosta implied the policy would favor immigrants from English-speaking countries — a logical assumption, if English speaking skills are prioritized in green card applicants.
“Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?” he asked.
“I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller responded. “Actually, it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that in your mind— ”
Acosta tried to respond.
“No! This is an amazing moment,” Miller said triumphantly. “This is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world.”
“Of course the are people who come — ” Acosta began.
“But that’s not what you said, and it shows your cosmopolitan bias,” Miller said.
“It sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country as policy,” Acosta said.
“Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said,” Miller said. “The notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting”
Acosta denied saying as much.
The CNN correspondent weighed in on the exchange on air after the briefing.
“Well, you can be Cuban and cosmopolitan, Brooke,” Acosta told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. “I think when the White House has to resort to insulting reporters in that fashion — and we’ve seen this time and again throughout the course of this administration — they’re just really not advancing a terribly powerful argument.”
The State Department said Wednesday that the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) provides sufficient legal grounds to shoot down Syrian government jets if they interfere with the fight against the Islamic State group.
Following a U.S. fighter jet shooting down a Syrian government warplane on June 18, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the State Department to provide legal justification for that action and others.
“The United States does not seek to fight the Syrian Government or pro-Syrian-Government forces,” the State Department responded Wednesday in a letter provided to TPM. “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportional force to defend U.S., Coalition, or partner forces engaged in the campaign against ISIS.”
The congressional debate over the 2001 AUMF — which has since been used to justify military action worldwide, and against foes unrelated to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks — has bubbled to the surface this year, though so far congressional leadership has stymied efforts to vote on a new AUMF to address the Islamic State specifically.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) reacted with surprise when the House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly in June to support her amendment sunsetting the 2001 AUMF and leaving eight months for Congress to write a new one.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) subsequently stripped the amendment before it reached the House floor for a vote as part of a much larger bill.
Politico noted in its report on Wednesday’s letter that Defense Secretary James Mattis has urged Congress to vote for a new AUMF, saying in his first public hearing in that position that he didn’t understand “why the Congress hasn’t come forward with this, at least to debate.”
Corker said on June 20 that he believed “that the Congress must fulfill its constitutional duty of authorizing war” but that “the failure to bridge differences and to pass a new AUMF could create a false impression of disunity during a time of war.”
The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the issue on Wednesday, behind closed doors.
Read the State Department’s response to Corker, from Charles Faulkner of the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, below: