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Donald Trump says White House ‘fine-tuned machine,’ despite turmoil

Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his young presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information.

Nearly a month into his presidency, Trump insisted in a freewheeling White House news conference that his new administration had made “significant progress” and took credit for an optimistic business climate and a rising stock market.

The president denounced media reports of a chaotic start to his administration marked by his contentious executive order — rejected by a federal appeals court — to place a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump said he would announce a “new and very comprehensive order to protect our people” next week.

“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” Trump declared in a lengthy news conference that saw the new commander in chief repeatedly interrupting reporters’ questions and airing his grievances.

Throughout the encounter the new president delivered recurring criticism of the news media, accusing it of being “out of control” and promising to take his message “straight to the people.”

He dismissed recent reports in The New York Times and on CNN that Trump campaign aides had been in contact with Russian officials before his election. Trump called Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager who has ties to Ukraine and Russia, a “respected man.”

Pressed repeatedly, Trump said that “nobody that I know of” on his campaign staff had contacted Russian officials. He called such reports a “ruse” and said he had “nothing to do with Russia.” Trump added, “Russia is fake news. This is fake news put out by the media.”

Amid reports of widespread leaks within his administration, Trump also warned that he would clamp down on the dissemination of sensitive information, saying he had asked the Justice Department to investigate. “Those are criminal leaks,” adding, “The leaks are real. The news is fake.”

He blamed any problems on the outgoing Obama administration. “I inherited a mess at home and abroad — a mess,” Trump said.

The president announced that Alexander Acosta, the dean of the Florida International University law school, would be his nominee for Labor secretary. That came a day after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for Labor after losing support among Republican senators.

Trump, a reality television star and real estate mogul who was elected as an outsider intent on change, said his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was “just doing his job” in talking with Russian officials before the inauguration. But he said he was “not happy” with how Flynn described his phone call with a Russian diplomat to Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had misled Pence but did not inform the vice president, according to a timeline of events supplied by the White House.

Trump said he had identified a strong replacement for Flynn, which made the decision to let him go easier.

Trump is said to favor Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, as his next national security adviser, according to a White House official. Harward met with top White House officials last week and has the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He was meeting with officials later Thursday.

Addressing immigration, one of the biggest issues of the past campaign, Trump said it was difficult dealing with the policy known as DACA, which allows young adults to get work permits and Social Security numbers and protects them from deportation. Referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rule, he said he would “deal with DACA with heart.”

While Trump has promised to halt illegal immigration as a cornerstone of his administration, he has also promised to focus on people who have committed crimes. He said he had the “best lawyers” working on the policy now and the “new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got from the court.”

Earlier in the day, Trump had a breakfast meeting with some of his staunchest House supporters.

The White House has said Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence over his dealings with Russia and whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Flynn previously had denied those conversations to Pence and other top officials.

On Thursday, he warned in a pair of tweets that “lowlife leakers” of classified information will be caught. As journalists were being escorted out of the breakfast meeting, Trump responded to a reporter’s question on the subject by saying: “We’re going to find the leakers” and “they’re going to pay a big price.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pro-Trump super PAC chaired by Rick Scott dealing with FEC on reporting issues

Rebuilding America Now, Governor Rick Scott’s Super PAC that was established to elect Donald Trump, is being scrutinized by the Federal Elections Commission for inadequate reporting in the third quarter of last year.

On January 11, the FEC sent a Request for Additional Information (RFAI) regarding two items for that October quarterly report.

One of the items noted is the listing of a negative entry for $10,800 for return of a list rental fee to Castleblack, Ltd in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This method of reporting would clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and more accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amount,” reads the letter written by the FEC’s Kaitlin Seufert, Sr. Campaign Finance & Reviewing Analyst in theReports Analysis Division.

The other item noted by the FEC was an expenditure of $1,344,000 to Multi Media Services Corporation,  a political media planning and buying agency in Alexandria, Virginia.

The FEC letter notes that a political committee must file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours of any independent expenditures aggregating $10,000 or more with respect to a given election, made any time during the calendar year up to and including the 20th day before an election.

Ryan Call, the treasurer for Rebuilding America Now, responded in a letter sent on Wednesday to the FEC that the October quarterly report “will be reviewed and amended to properly reflect the receipt of offsets to operating expenditures on Schedule A supporting Line 15 of the Detailed Summary Page to clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amounts.”

Regarding the expenditure to Multi Media Services Corporation, Call writes that “The October Quarterly Report and subsequent reports will be reviewed and amended to ensure that disbursements in the required 48-hour reports, which were voluntarily filed as soon as the inadvertent filing omissions were identified, have been properly reported and fully itemized to clarify for the public record the total amount of independent expenditures and to accurately disclose the Committee’s cash-on-hand amounts.”

Rebuilding America Now spent $22,763,915 to get Trump elected in 2016, the second most of any pro Super PAC for Trump. Only the Great America PAC raised more.

Trump’s campaign committee directly raised $247 million in the campaign.

Alexander Acosta announced as Donald Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary

Donald Trump‘s latest choice for Labor Secretary has Florida roots.

Alexander Acosta, the Dean of Florida International University College of Law and former attorney for the Southern District of Florida, was announced as the President’s second pick for the position of Labor Secretary on Thursday.

The first choice, Andrew Puzder, was not going to survive a confirmation vote, especially in light of shocking video of Puzder’s ex-wife describing domestic abuse on the Oprah Winfrey show years ago.

Though the former Mrs. Puzder later retracted these allegations, the damage was done. Puzder withdrew from consideration, and Acosta emerged quickly.

Acosta, a Harvard-educated attorney who once served as clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, has been confirmed by the Senate multiple times, and has served on the National Labor Relations Board. As opposed to many of Trump’s wild card cabinet selections, there should be scant surprise or drama with this nomination.

Acosta, who previously was the first Hispanic assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division,  would be the first Hispanic member of the Trump Cabinet if confirmed.

Acosta has support from Florida’s Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, who dined with Trump the evening before.

“I know Alex Acosta well, and he is a phenomenal choice to lead the Department of Labor. Whether it was his distinguished service as U.S. attorney in Florida’s Southern District or as dean of Florida International University’s school of law, Alex has succeeded in all endeavors he has taken on, and managing the Department of Labor will be no different. I look forward to his confirmation hearing, where I’m confident he will impress my colleagues and secure the support necessary to be the next secretary of labor,” Rubio asserted in a statement.

When asked if Acosta was a topic of the Trump/Rubio dinner conversation, Sen. Rubio had this to say.

“We are not going to discuss private conversations. However, I believe Alex Acosta was a fantastic choice, and the White House is aware of my opinion of Mr. Acosta.”

For his part, Trump noted during the presser that he and Rubio discussed Cuba.

****

Trump, in need of a positive news cycle after a chaotic beginning to his administration, delayed his press conference early in the afternoon.

He personally announced it to be a noon event. It was pushed back to 12:30, but even that timeframe proved daunting, as the event kicked off closer to 1:00 p.m.

Trump described Acosta as a “great student” at Harvard Law School, who has had a “tremendous career” since.

“He’s been through Senate confirmation three times. Did very, very well,” Trump asserted.

And that was all Trump had to say about Acosta.

Donald Trump’s F-35 call, overheard by rival CEO, threatens chaos in system

Donald Trump’s ascension to president of the United States has created more than its share of chaos, both in Washington D.C. and across the country.

Bloomberg Politics reports on one such muddled event – a demonstration that Trump, quite possibly, is a leader of the gang that simply can’t shoot straight.

Days before inauguration, President-elect Trump placed two calls to the Pentagon. He spoke with Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who manages the F-35 program, the nation’s biggest weapons project, which is built by Lockheed Martin.

Of course, unsurprisingly in retrospect, Trump made those calls within listening range of Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Co., Lockheed’s chief rival. Muilenburg was in Trump’s New York office for a meeting; he caught part of the second call.

On the campaign trail, Trump blasted the $379 billion F-35 program, calling it “out of control.” Boeing, obligingly, suggests that they can provide an alternative with its Super Hornet fighter.

After the phone calls with Trump, Bloomberg says that Bogdan put his notes down in two memos Jan. 10 and 18 – titled “phone conversations with President-elect” – each labeled “For Official Use Only.”

Bogdan noted Trump’s questions about the capabilities of the Super Hornet, the Boeing product to compete with Lockheed’s F-35C. The memos were distributed to about a dozen people, Bloomberg reports.

By speaking directly to a program manager, questioning a government contract signed more than a decade and a half ago, Trump threatens to upset the entire F-35 program.

“When a president ignores the chain of command by going directly to a program manager, it creates chaos in the system,” said analyst Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute. Thompson has tracked the F-35 program since Lockheed beat Boeing in winning the contract in October 2001. She also serves as consultant to Lockheed.

“Behavior that looks decisive in the business world can unhinge a military organization that depends on order and discipline,” Thompson told Bloomberg.

Making matters worse, Trump failed to comprehend (perhaps willingly?) that comparing the F-35 and Super Hornet is like apples and oranges; the F-35 is designed with significantly superior radar, communications and sensor capabilities. The Super Hornet would need a massive, and expensive, retooling to truly compete.

In addition, to keep costs down, the F-35 has been aggressively marketed to U.S. allies worldwide; several countries have already picked up contracts for maintenance and production.

So, the F-35 is not just a “plane” that can be bartered, but a complex weapon system and network of partnerships and agreements, many of which established long before Trump entered the White House – and will remain long after he leaves.

But an offhand comment, and overheard phone call, could put all that in jeopardy.

Miami U.S. attorney announces resignation from post

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, whose office prosecuted thousands of cases during his tenure ranging from terror plots to billion-dollar Ponzi schemes to purveyors of prescription drug “pill mills,” announced Wednesday he will resign after nearly seven years.

Ferrer, 50, said in a news release he will step down as South Florida’s top federal prosecutor effective March 3. Ferrer, whose previous posts included senior adviser to former Attorney General Janet Reno, was nominated for the Miami job by former President Barack Obama in early 2010 and confirmed by the Senate.

“There has been no greater honor than to serve and protect the same community that opened its arms to my parents when they immigrated to this country,” said Ferrer, who is Cuban-American. “I am incredibly proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together, in and out of the courtroom, including building meaningful bonds of trust with the diverse community we serve.”

He did not say why he was resigning but U.S. attorneys often step aside when control of the White House changes political parties.

President Donald Trump will appoint a successor. Ferrer’s top assistant, Ben Greenberg, will run the office in the meantime.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida, as it is formally known, is the nation’s third largest with almost 250 assistant prosecutors and 170 support personnel. More than 6 million people live in the district stretching from Fort Pierce south to Key West.

During his tenure, Ferrer’s office prosecuted several high-profile terrorism-related cases, including the conviction of a Muslim imam who funneled money to the Pakistani Taliban and a thwarted plot by two Pakistani-born brothers to detonate explosives at New York City landmarks.

More recently, prosecutors indicted Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, on 22 charges that could bring the death penalty for the Jan. 6 shooting that killed five people and wounded six at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Other notable prosecutions included a crackdown on the South Florida “pill mills” that had been selling oxycodone and other drugs illegally by the tens of thousands and hundreds of health care fraud and identity theft cases.

Ferrer’s office also prosecuted 29 people charged in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by former attorney Scott Rothstein, who is serving a 50-year sentence for a scam involving investments in fake legal settlements. Wronged investors got all their money back.

In addition, the Miami U.S. attorney’s office is part of the prosecution team handling the case in Brooklyn, New York, against Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump rally in Melbourne confirmed

President Donald Trump will be holding a rally in Melbourne Saturday afternoon in what is essentially a re-election campaign stop being promoted by his campaign.

Team Trump-Pence, the successor to Donald J. Trump for President, announced the president’s rally would be at a 5 p.m. event at the AeroMod International Hangar at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport.

The appearance presumably is on his way for his weekly weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. It also comes hours after SpaceX will be making the first launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center a few miles up the coast, fueling speculation that the president may also make a space center visit and take in the historic launch during his time in Brevard County.

His return to Melbourne is a return to one of the hottest campaign rally spots Trump had in Florida during his triumphant run through last summer and fall. A stop he made there in September — at another hangar at the Melbourne Airport — was absolutely overwhelmed with supporters who became infamously rowdy for him that evening.

There he’s likely to get a crowd not concerned with what his critics have focused on during his first month, including his relationship with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, his fights with the federal judiciary, or his staff’s gaffes and repeated misstatements. He’s likely to leave energized by an audience enamored by his immigration, border control, trade, and deregulation moves during his first weeks.

It’ll also be his first purely public appearance in Florida since he was sworn into office Jan. 20, though he has ben to Mar-a-Lago nearly every weekend.

Free tickets for the Melbourne event are available through the Team Trump-Pence websiteThe announcement also notes that campaign merchandise will be sold at the event. Doors open at 3 p.m.

For GOP, a dimmed zeal for investigations in Donald Trump era

The Republicans’ ardor for investigations and oversight, on display throughout the Obama administration, has cooled off considerably with Donald Trump in the White House.

Each day seems to bring a new headache or near-crisis from Trump, the latest being the departure of his national security adviser under questionable circumstances involving Russia.

Yet if there is a line too far, at which point Republicans will feel duty-bound to call for an independent investigation of their president or his administration, Trump hasn’t crossed it yet.

Democrats are clamoring for a full-scale probe of the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, including demanding to know what Trump knew, and when, about Flynn’s pre-inauguration conversations with a Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions. White House press secretary Sean Spicer disclosed that Trump was told in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations.

Rather than go along with Democrats’ call for an independent outside investigation, Senate Republicans insisted Tuesday that the Intelligence Committee could look at the circumstances as part of an existing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

“The Intelligence Committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election and they have broad jurisdiction over the intel community writ large and they can look at whatever they choose to,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adding that “it’s highly likely they’d want to take a look at this episode as well.”

The intelligence panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, told reporters that “aggressive” oversight would continue “privately. We don’t do that in public.”

House Republicans were even less interested, with some shrugging off Democrats’ calls for an investigation entirely. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the “real crime” is how Flynn’s phone conversations were leaked, echoing a complaint Trump himself made over Twitter.

“I think the situation has taken care of itself” in light of Flynn’s resignation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told reporters. That’s a far different stance toward potential wrongdoing by the executive branch than Chaffetz took last year, when House Republicans issued more than 70 letters and subpoenas aimed at investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton over a period of less than three months after the FBI announced criminal charges weren’t warranted related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Chaffetz did turn his attention to a different Trump administration matter later Tuesday, sending a letter to the White House seeking information about Trump’s discussion of a North Korea missile launch while dining al fresco with the Japanese prime minister at a resort in Florida.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went so far as to counsel publicly against spending too much time investigating the White House, saying that doing so could only be counterproductive at a moment when the GOP faces a daunting legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul said in an appearance on Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade and Friends.” ”We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

The relatively hands-off stance of the GOP toward the Trump White House angers Democrats, who are powerless to do much except fume from the minority in both chambers of Congress.

“Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, complained at a news conference Tuesday. “That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution. We’ve been asking for months for basic oversight.”

The GOP’s lack of enthusiasm about investigating the Trump White House comes as Capitol Hill Republicans struggle to come to terms with a new administration that has been engulfed in upheaval after upheaval. Republicans are trying to focus on their agenda despite the distractions. And for now, they appear to have concluded, going easy on Trump is the best way to achieve their goals, including confirming a Supreme Court justice and passing a new health care law and other legislation they want the president to sign.

“We know full well that there are issues that are going to come up on a daily basis that we’re going to get asked about and have to respond to,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, “but we’re interested in repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming the tax code, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, confirming a Supreme Court justice, getting these Cabinet nominees through — that’s what our agenda is right now.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

U.S. Senate will consider blocking rule on guns and mentally ill

The Republican-led Senate is moving to block an Obama-era regulation that would prevent an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a firearm.

The Obama administration had sought to strengthen the federal background check system with a rule requiring the Social Security Administration to send in the names of beneficiaries with mental impairments who also need a third-party to manage their benefits.

With a Republican ally in the White House, the GOP is moving aggressively on gun rights measures. The House earlier this month voted for the resolution blocking the rule. The Senate has scheduled a vote for Wednesday morning that would send the measure to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said during a debate on the Senate floor Tuesday that the regulation, set to go into effect in December, unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms. He said that the mental disorders covered through the regulation are filled with “vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard” prohibiting someone from buying or owning a gun.

Grassley cited eating and sleep disorders as examples of illnesses that could allow a beneficiary to be reported to the background check system if they also need a third party to manage their benefits.

“If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it,” Grassley said.

The regulation was crafted as part of President Barack Obama‘s efforts to strengthen the background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man with a variety of impairments, including Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, shot and killed his mother at their home, then went to school where he killed the students, adults and himself.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he didn’t know how he could explain to his constituents that Congress was making it easier rather than harder for people with serious mental illness to have a gun.

“If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you’re going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm,” Murphy said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued that anyone who thinks they’re treated unfairly can appeal, and are likely to win if they’re not a danger to themselves or others. But Grassley said federal law requires a formal hearing and judgment before depriving someone of owning a firearm due to mental illness.

“The Second Amendment, as a fundamental right, requires the government to carry the burden to show a person has a dangerous mental illness,” Grassley said. “This regulation obviously and simply does not achieve that.”

Gun rights groups such as the NRA are supporting the effort to repeal the Obama-era regulation. The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with the NRA in fighting the regulation, as has an independent federal agency charged with advising the president and Congress on government policy. The National Council on Disability said there is no nexus between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely possess and use a firearm.

The NAACP, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities supported the Social Security Administration’s efforts. The groups said the Social Security agency is simply following through with its requirements under existing law. Citing the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre and the killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech, the groups said loopholes in federal law have allowed people who are clearly a danger to themselves and others to obtain guns.

“These killings must stop and this rule, as implemented last year, will help to do that,” said Clarence Anthony, the CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s visits to Florida costing sheriff $1.5 million in OT

Donald Trump‘s visits to his South Florida estate since he was elected president have cost the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department $1.5 million in overtime costs.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is confident the money his department has spent while assisting the Secret Service will be reimbursed by the federal government.

“I do hope he is correct,” said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

The county sent letters to federal officials in December seeking reimbursement for the overtime security costs from Trump’s five-day visit to the estate called Mar-a-lago in November, the Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday.

Those costs were originally estimated at $250,000, but Bradshaw said the total will be closer to $300,000. Based on the revised number, the sheriff said told the newspaper the security costs are amounting to about $60,000 a day during Trump’s visits to the county.

Aside from the five days in November, Trump stayed at Mar-a-lago 16 days in December. He has returned for two weekends so far in February.

The sheriff’s presidential detail is covered by overtime and doesn’t compromise law enforcement for the rest of the county.

“We don’t take anybody off the road that handles normal calls for service,” Bradshaw said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to get reimbursed. There’ll be a point in time where I’ll have a conversation, I hope, with the president personally or with someone high up in his administration.”

Baker said the sheriff works closely with the Secret Service and would have a better feel about any reimbursement. “I have not received that type of information from anyone in writing,” Baker said.

Presidential visits aren’t unusual in Palm Beach County as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made multiple visits for fundraisers, golf outings and campaign appearances. But they didn’t involve extended stays.

“Obviously we take it very seriously and we’re fortunate we have the experience and the manpower to be able to handle it,” Bradshaw said. “We work seamlessly with the Secret Service because we’ve done it so much.”

In addition to the sheriff’s costs, West Palm Beach Chief Financial Officer Mark Parks estimated city police and fire rescue crews have incurred about $26,000 in overtime costs during Trump’s February visits. The Post reports the town of Palm Beach did not provide estimates for its costs.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Report: Robin Bernstein, other Palm Beach residents tapped for ambassadorships

Three Palm Beach residents with ties to Donald Trump are expected to be tapped for ambassadorships.

Gossip Extra reported Monday that the president has offered ambassadorships to Robin Bernstein, Patrick Park, and Brian Burns. All three, the website reported, were undergoing background checks this week.

Bernstein is a long-time friend Trump’s, and is the president of Richard Bernstein & Associates, a Palm Beach insurance company. She has a bachelor’s degree from American University and a masters of business administration from George Washington University.

A founding member of the Mar-A-Lago Club, Gossip Extra reported Bernstein is expected to become the ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

According to the site, Park could be in line to become the ambassador to Austria, while Burns is in line to become the ambassador to Ireland.

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