Donald Trump Archives - Page 5 of 285 - Florida Politics

Bipartisan Senate bill aims to protect special counsel’s job

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.

The bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Donald Trump‘s campaign.

“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “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.”

Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May following Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crimes to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump has been critical of Mueller since his appointment, and his legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members to Hillary Clinton. He has also publicly warned Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.

Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill. Senators in both parties have expressed concerns that Trump may try to fire Mueller and have warned him not to do so.

“Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Coons said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the Judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review. Graham said then that firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”

The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed. If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel’s removal, the person would be immediately reinstated. The legislation would also codify existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause, such as a violation of departmental policies.

In addition, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel.

In the case of the current investigation, Rosenstein is charged with Mueller’s fate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s fundraising prowess keeps Republican Party close

Republican senators are bucking President Donald Trump’s calls to revive the health care debate. And Trump just ousted his only top White House aide with deep links to the Republican Party.

But the president and his party won’t be calling it quits anytime soon. They remain tightly linked by a force more powerful than politics or personal ties: cash.

Trump’s fundraising prowess is the engine of the Republican National Committee and a lifeline for every Republican planning to rely on the party for financial help during next year’s congressional races. Leaning heavily on Trump’s appeal among small donors, the party has raised $75 million in the first six months of the year, more than double what the Democratic National Committee had raised by the same point in President Barack Obama’s first year.

“The president is somebody who absolutely is an asset when it comes to fundraising,” RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said. Trump resonates with a base of Republicans who have been more willing this year than ever before to chip in. The party says it collected more cash online in the first six months of the year than in all of 2016.

In late June, Trump played star and host of a fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the RNC. The event at the Trump International Hotel, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, raised $10 million to be divided between Trump and the party, the kind of bounty usually reserved for the final months before an election.

The fundraising numbers help explain why more Republicans — particularly those facing re-election next year — aren’t openly distancing themselves from a president whose approval rating hovers below 40 percent and whose White House has been wracked by public back-biting and legislative stumbles.

And while Trump hasn’t hesitated to call out Republicans who defy him, he’s largely come to appreciate the permanence the RNC offers a White House that has had to quickly staff up from nothing — a task that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

Trump’s dismissal last week of chief of staff Reince Priebus prompted a rush of concern from Republican lawmakers who’d gotten to know Priebus during his nearly six years as party chairman. Some wondered if Trump was losing his only link to the Republican Party.

Yet the well-funded RNC has been reformatted for the Trump era.

“The president likes the fact that the party is structured to help his agenda, and there’s not a question that this RNC is 100 percent loyal to him,” said Brian Ballard, one of the party’s lead fundraisers. “It’s not like the RNC he inherited as the party’s nominee; it’s his now.”

Party employees have led communication at key points of the investigations into whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russian interference in the presidential election.

And the RNC, realizing how important television is to this particular White House, has added employees to help book Trump proponents on cable shows.

There are awkward GOP moments, to be sure. Just this week, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in his new book, called out Trump for his “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.” Trump over the weekend on Twitter ridiculed Senate Republicans for not passing a health care bill, saying Democrats were laughing at them and they “look like fools.”

McDaniel said the president has “every right” to engage with Republicans however he sees fit. “The American people put him in office to accomplish his agenda,” she said. She’s backed him up on Twitter: “I run into people every day who are hurting across the country under Obamacare,” she wrote recently. “Giving up is not an option.”

Priebus and others at the RNC were squeamish about their presidential nominee at various points during the 2016 campaign, but few if any detractors remain at its headquarters on Capitol Hill, where the hallways are lined with portraits of Trump and blown-up snapshots of him.

The RNC voted McDaniel in as party chair on Trump’s recommendation. As the Michigan GOP head, she’d been a staunch Trump supporter even as her uncle, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, expressed his own reservations about Trump during the campaign.

Trump also tapped Bob Paduchik, his campaign’s Ohio director, to serve as a deputy to McDaniel. The two remain close, and Paduchik traveled with Trump last month for a rally in Youngstown.

Trump’s family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, Eric Trump’s wife, are involved in the RNC’s strategy and fundraising and have grown close to McDaniel. Longtime Trump friend Steve Wynn, a fellow billionaire businessman, is the party’s chief fundraiser; the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among the RNC’s principal fundraisers.

His campaign’s trusted data and digital director, Brad Parscale, joined the board of Data Trust, the party’s data vendor, which keeps its voter files up to date.

Trump heaped praise on the RNC’s leadership team during the June fundraiser, calling them stars and winners. Bill Stepien, the White House’s political director, said relations between the party and the president are as good now as they were in the mid-2000s, when he worked at the RNC while George W. Bush was president.

Stepien said the White House and the party have “a strong relationship” and that Trump’s aides view the RNC as an “essential component” of his success.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jax Sheriff Mike Williams talks community policing in the Donald Trump era

The Donald Trump era has created unique challenges for law enforcement, including in Jacksonville, where local activists have pressed Sheriff Mike Williams for his commentary on President Trump’s jarring comments last week that seemed to encourage police brutality.

“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” said the leader of the Free World last week to police officers.

While some police departments in the area, such as Gainesville’s, were quick to condemn the comments, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has withheld comment … until Wednesday, when Florida Politics asked Sheriff Williams his thoughts on Trump’s commentary and worries from the activist left that they may end up targeted by the 100 new cops sought in the FY 17-18 budget.

“I try to stay away from getting involved, trying to justify anything the President says,” Williams noted.

“Talking about Jacksonville, and what appears to be a joke about police brutality, we take that very seriously,” Williams said.

“We’ve shown in the last two years, when it comes to police brutality and misconduct, that we take it very seriously and act swiftly and appropriately. That’s the lens through which we should look at Jacksonville — how we respond to stuff,” Williams added.

“I’d encourage people to look at what we do in Jacksonville and how we respond,” Williams continued, “instead of broadbrushing us with a joke from D.C.”

When asked what Trump’s comments did regarding community relations between the police and citizens, Williams pivoted back to his original point.

“I would encourage people to look at what we’ve done, look at our actions. Don’t look at the words of the President and apply them to JSO,” Williams said.

“Look at what we’ve done and what we do. When we see misconduct, we act swiftly and appropriately, especially when it comes to brutality or any inappropriate use of force, we don’t tolerate it and we drive that message down to the troops,” Williams said.

“That’s the benchmark I’d like to see us judged by,” Williams added, “not what the President says.”

When we asked Williams if he would advise the President to avoid such quips going forward, Williams laughed, saying “a lot of people try to give the President advice, and I’m not sure how much he takes at this point.”

“When it comes to local law enforcement,” Williams continued, “our relationship with the community is especially important. It cannot be us against them. We work hard to keep that from being the perception, and we will continue to work hard.”

“If you take your eye off the ball,” Williams continued, “you can lose ground there. There’s a natural inclination of many in the community to create an ‘us against them’ and we need to push back against that.”

“Things that don’t help us in that area don’t help us,” Williams added.

Regarding the 100 new police officers in the new budget, Williams asserted that the force additions will help with community policing, including the kind of relationship building that can foster trust.

“Everybody sees the videos of the guys playing basketball with kids … when there’s no time to do that,” Williams said, “that’s not going to happen.”

“What we have here in Jacksonville today,” Williams said, “a guy comes into work, turns on his laptop, and has three calls for service waiting.”

“It stays like that for twelve hours in many parts of the city. There’s always three people waiting for him to get there. For 11 ½ hours, he’s going call to call to call.”

What this means: that officer can’t stop in local businesses, or talk to people in neighborhoods, as he hurtles from crisis to crisis.

“We’re not going to be exceptionally staffed when we do this. We’re going to be appropriately staffed for a community our size,” Williams added, and that will allow time for the kinds of policing that schedules don’t allow now.

Officers are tracked every minute of the day, Williams said, and the goal is 45 percent of time being unassigned, which would allow officers to build those relationships.

“You can’t really do that in lieu of responding to somebody’s call,” the Sheriff added.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ready to take on Carlos Curbelo in CD 26

In front of the West Perrine Health Center in Miami, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell officially announced her candidacy for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, where she hopes to take on Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo next year.

Although Curbelo is considered extremely vulnerable in the Democratic leaning district that stretches from Miami to Key West, Mucarsel-Powell is the first Democrat to officially file a challenge in CD 26 for 2018.

Last year, Mucarsel-Powell lost a bid for a state senate bid against Republican Anitere Flores.

“I immigrated to the United States as a young girl with my mother and three sisters — in search of opportunities to better our lives,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “My mother worked tirelessly as a home health care provider and attended school in the evenings and weekends to learn English. She instilled in me the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, your potential is endless in America. I lived those values — got a good education and built a successful twenty-year career working to improve the lives of underserved communities right here at home.”

Mucarsel-Powell blasted Curbelo for his vote in support of the GOP health care bill in the House.

“It’s shocking that Washington politicians, like the one who claims to represent this community, would vote to rip away health care access from our families,” she said. “That’s not what we want and it’s not what hardworking families like the one I grew up in need. We need to improve on what’s working and fix what’s broken in our health care system, not recklessly scrap the whole system and abandon people who need it the most.

Murcasel-Powell also said she’s seen first hand the negative effects of climate change.

“We must invest in green energy, reduce carbon emissions and invest in infrastructure that will protect South Florida from sea level rise.  We cannot continue to elect politicians that say one thing here at home and do another in D.C. — the issues are too big; the stakes are too high.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been targeting Curbelo for months. Although Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia last November by 12 points, Hillary Clinton won CD 26 by 10 points over Donald Trump.

Donald Trump says he won’t stay off social media

President Donald Trump may be trying for a reset in the West Wing, but he is making clear that he is not changing his Twitter habit.

On Twitter Tuesday, Trump said: “Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!”

The tweet came one day after retired Gen. John Kelly took over as Trump’s new chief of staff. Tapped to bring order to the chaotic West Wing, Kelly quickly made his presence known Monday — ousting newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci and revising the command structure so that all senior staffers report to him.

Those moves were praised Monday by Trump allies and lawmakers, who expressed hope that Kelly would help stem internal conflicts and advance a policy agenda after six months of tumult. But less clear is how much control Kelly will have over Trump’s predilection for sowing conflict and making off-the-cuff comments on social media.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Tuesday that Kelly had full control over the staff. Asked at a press briefing if senior advisers Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and others would be able to drop in to see the president, she said: “I don’t think anyone just wanders into the Oval Office.”

Sanders added that “Gen. Kelly is going to work with the entire team as he has been doing over the last couple of days.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaking on NBC’s “Today Show,” said he was encouraged by Kelly’s new role, but stressed that he was looking for “discipline” from Trump in order to move forward with issues like health care and tax reform.

“He has an obligation to be president for all of us and stop the chaos. Most of the chaos is generated by him and no one else,” Graham said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.


Anthony Scaramucci out of White House job as John Kelly takes charge

Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House communications director after just 11 days on the job – and just hours after former Gen. John Kelly took over as President Donald Trump‘s new chief of staff.

Hoping to turn the page on a tumultuous opening chapter to his presidency, Trump had insisted earlier Monday that there was “no chaos” in his White House as he swore in the retired Marine general as his second chief of staff.

Not long after, Scaramucci, who shocked many with his profane outburst last week against then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, was gone.

In the words of the White House announcement, he was leaving because he “felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.” The three-sentence release concluded, “We wish him all the best.”

The statement about Scaramucci’s departure used the same “clean slate” language that departing press secretary Sean Spicer used to describe his own reason for resigning the day Trump brought Scaramucci aboard.

Spicer remained in the White House on Monday, saying he was there to assist with the communications transitions.

As the Scaramucci news spread, Kelly was in the East Room smiling and taking pictures with guests who were gathering for a Medal of Honor presentation.

Earlier, in an Oval Office ceremony, Trump predicted Kelly, who previously served as Homeland Security chief, would do a “spectacular job.” And the president chose to highlight the rising stock market and positive jobs outlook rather than talk about how things might need to change in his White House under Kelly.

Trump on Friday ousted Priebus as chief of staff and turned to Kelly, who he hopes will bring military discipline to an administration weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, infighting among West Wing aides and a stack of investigations.

Scaramucci’s brief tenure shoved internal White House disputes into the open. In media interviews, he trashed Priebus as a “leaker” and senior White House aide Steve Bannon as a self-promoter. One of Scaramucci’s first – and it turns out only – acts was to force out a communications aide seen as loyal to Priebus.

Spicer, Priebus and Bannon had all objected to Trump’s decision to hire Scaramucci, who would have reported directly to the president.

While Trump is looking for a reset, he pushed back against criticism of his administration with this tweet: “Highest Stock Market EVER, best economic numbers in years, unemployment lowest in 17 years, wages raising, border secure, S.C.: No WH chaos!”

In fact, economic growth averaged 2 percent in the first half of this year, a pace Trump railed against as a candidate and promised to lift to 3 percent. The stock market first hit a record under President Barack Obama and has kept growing. The unemployment rate, too, started to decline on Obama’s watch. And wage gains have been weak.

Trump on Monday convened his first Cabinet meeting with Kelly at his side, telling his team it is “doing incredibly well” and “starting from a really good base.” On how he would deal with rising tensions with North Korea, Trump said only: “It will be handled.”

Seated across from Trump was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has stayed on the job while Trump has publicly savaged him in interviews and on social media.

Kelly’s success in a chaotic White House will depend on how much authority he is granted and whether Trump’s dueling aides will put aside their rivalries to work together. Also unclear is whether a new chief of staff will have any influence over the president’s social media histrionics.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was ousted from the campaign in June 2016, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected Kelly would “restore order to the staff” but also stressed that Trump was unlikely to change his style.

“I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for,” Lewandowski said. “And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”

Kelly’s start follows a wild week, marked by a profane tirade by Scaramucci, the president’s continued criticism of his attorney general and the failed effort by Senate Republicans to overhaul the nation’s health care law.

In addition to the strains in the West Wing and with Congress, Kelly starts his new job as tensions escalate with North Korea. The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea, following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she hopes Kelly can “be effective,” and “begin some very serious negotiation with the North and stop this program.”

Another diplomatic fissure opened Sunday when Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by several hundred under new sanctions from Moscow. In a television interview, Putin indicated the cutback was retaliation for new sanctions in a bill passed by Congress and sent to Trump.

Trump plans to sign the measure into law, the White House has said. After Putin’s remarks, the State Department deemed the cutbacks “a regrettable and uncalled for act” and said officials would assess the impact and how to respond to it.

While Trump is trying to refresh his team, he signaled that he does not want to give up the fight on health care. On Twitter Sunday, he said: “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace.”

The protracted health care fight has slowed work on Trump’s other policy goals, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure investment. But Trump aides made clear that the president still wanted to see action on health care. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that senators “need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”

The House has begun a five-week recess, while the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s six-month stall sparks a White House shake-up

Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump is saddled with a stalled agenda, a West Wing that resembles a viper’s nest, a pile of investigations and a Republican Party that’s starting to break away.

Trump on Friday indirectly acknowledged the troubled state of his unconventional White House when he abruptly replaced his chief of staff with hard-nosed retired Gen. John Kelly, until now the Homeland Security secretary.

Kelly will take the desk of Reince Priebus, a Republican operative who was skeptical of Trump’s electoral prospects last year and ultimately came to be viewed by the president as weak and ineffective.

Kelly’s ability to succeed will depend on factors outside his control, including whether Trump’s squabbling staff is willing to put aside the rivalries that have sowed disorder and complicated efforts to enact policy.

But the big question is can Kelly do what Priebus couldn’t? And that’s curbing the president’s penchant for drama and unpredictability, and his tendency to focus more on settling scores than promoting a policy agenda.

No other aide or adviser has been successful on that front.

As a candidate, and now as president, Trump has cycled through campaign chiefs and advisers but has remained easily distracted by his personal interests and only loosely tethered to any policy plans.

“Trump has spent a lot of his political capital on nothing but defending his own reputation,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, said of Trump’s first six months in office. “There is no sustained strategy. His attention seems to shift with whatever is leading cable news at that moment.”

Staff shake-ups are a tried-and-true way for struggling presidents to signal that they are ready to shift course.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton elevated budget director Leon Panetta to chief of staff with a mandate to bring more discipline to a loosely organized White House. President George W. Bush made the same move with Josh Bolten in 2006 as the Bush presidency buckled under criticism of his handling of the Iraq war and the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Rarely, however, do presidents face as much turmoil as quickly as Trump has.

His Friday afternoon tweet announcing Kelly’s hiring capped a tumultuous week:

—his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, spewed vulgarities in public at Priebus.

—Trump drew blunt criticism from GOP lawmakers over his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for withdrawing from the federal investigation into Russian campaign interference.

—Senate Republicans’ efforts to pass legislation that would have overhauled the nation’s health care law collapsed.

Some Trump allies tried to pin the blame for the health debacle on Priebus. The former Republican National Committee chairman had sold himself to Trump as a well-connected Washington operator who could help round up votes on Capitol Hill. He encouraged Trump to press forward with a health care overhaul early in his presidency.

But as Republicans sorted through the rubble of their health care failure, it was Trump, not his chief of staff, who was the target of criticism.

“One of the failures was the president never laid out a plan or his core principles and never sold them to the American people,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. He said Trump “outsourced the whole issue to Congress.”

Indeed, Trump’s relatively rare public appeals for the passage of health legislation suggested he was more interested in a political win than in the details of policy. A former Democrat who does not adhere to all GOP orthodoxy, Trump frequently shifted his own stance as to whether the Republicans should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act at once or simply repeal the law for now.

By week’s end, it was clear that some Republicans simply weren’t afraid of breaking with a weakened president. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona, who was back in Washington after a brain cancer diagnosis, doomed a last-ditch bill in Friday’s early morning hours.

Murkowski, who was targeted by Trump on Twitter for her opposition, showed little sign of being cowed by the president.

“We’re here to govern, we’re here to legislate, to represent people that sent us here. And so every day shouldn’t be about campaigning. Every day shouldn’t be about winning elections. How about doing a little governing around here?” she asked.

To this point, Trump has failed to shepherd a single substantial piece of legislation into law. His only major accomplishments have been by executive power — rolling back regulations and undoing a few of his predecessor’s achievements, like the Paris climate treaty — along with his successful nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Kelly, who spent his career in the military before being nominated by Trump to run the sprawling Department of Homeland Security, has limited political and legislative experience. But at least for now, he has the trust of the president.

“He has been a true star of my administration,” Trump declared.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Hillary Clinton lost, but Republicans still want to investigate her

Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, but some Republicans in Congress are intensifying their calls to investigate her and other Obama administration officials.

As investigations into Russian meddling and possible links to Trump’s campaign have escalated on both sides of the Capitol, some Republicans argue that the investigations should have a greater focus on Democrats.

Democrats who have pushed the election probes “have started a war of investigative attrition,” said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Several officials from former President Barack Obama’s administration and Clinton’s campaign have appeared before or been interviewed by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as part of the Russia investigation, along with Trump campaign officials. The GOP-led committees are investigating whether Trump’s campaign had any links to Russian interference in last year’s election.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has continued a separate investigation into whether Obama administration officials inappropriately made requests to “unmask” identities of Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has declined to investigate the Russian meddling, approved a resolution this past week to request documents related to the FBI’s now-closed investigation of Clinton’s emails. In addition, Republican on that committee wrote the Justice Department on Thursday and asked for a second special counsel, in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to investigate “unaddressed matters, some connected to the 2016 election and others, including many actions taken by Obama administration.”

“The American public has a right to know the facts — all of them — surrounding the election and its aftermath,” the lawmakers wrote.

Republicans want to investigate the unmasking issue and also Clinton’s email scandal that figured prominently in the campaign. They also frequently bring up former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that she told him to call the Clinton email investigation a “matter” instead of an investigation during the campaign.

Nunes wrote his own letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last week, saying that his committee has learned that one Obama administration official had made “hundreds” of the unmasking requests.

Even though he remains committee chairman, Nunes stepped back from the Russia investigation earlier this year after he was criticized for being too close to the White House. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, took over the leading role.

The committee has conducted bipartisan interviews of witnesses; Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner appeared on Tuesday, a day after talking to Senate staff. But partisan tensions have been evident.

GOP Rep. Pete King of New York, who’s on the House Intelligence Committee, said after the Kushner interview that the committee investigation into Russian meddling is a “sham.”

“To me there is nothing to this from the beginning,” he said of his committee’s own probe. “There is no collusion … it’s the phoniest investigation ever.”

Both the Senate and House committees have interviewed or expressed interest in interviewing a series of Democratic witnesses, including Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power — both of whom Republicans have said may be linked to the unmasking. Rice met with staff on the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, and Power met with the panel Friday.

“Ambassador Power strongly supports any bipartisan effort to address the serious threat to our national security posed by Russia’s interference in our electoral process, and is eager to engage with the Senate and House committees on the timeline they have requested,” Power’s lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement.

Donald Trump names Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as chief of staff, ousting Reince Priebus

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday afternoon that he is naming Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as chief of staff, ousting Reince Priebus.

In the swirl of Shakespearean intrigue that surrounds Donald Trump’s White House, Priebus’ fortunes have long been a source of speculation, given his limited role, colorful band of rivals and the president’s public slights. Those questions sharply escalated this week with the arrival of Trump’s new communications director, who was hired over Priebus’ objections and reports directly to the president.

Priebus’ already tense relationship with Anthony Scaramucci took a darker turn over the past 24 hours when the communications chief suggested in a late-night tweet that Priebus was one of the “leakers” that President Donald Trump has railed against. The New Yorker published a profanity-laced interview Thursday in which Scaramucci called Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic.”

Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Tuesday that no staff shake-up was imminent. But he has privately floated potential replacements for Priebus, including Secretary John Kelly, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and former campaign adviser David Urban, according to three people who’ve been in conversation with the president and senior staffers recently.

The president often throws out names casually in conversation that end up going nowhere, and there is no indication that anyone has been approached about the job.

But Priebus’ power — which has been limited compared with past people with that title — has dwindled. Scaramucci is the latest top aide to be granted a direct line to Trump, and it has become increasingly unclear who actually reports to Priebus. The White House did not respond to requests for an organizational chart.

After Trump boarded Air Force One on Friday for a trip to Long Island, New York, reporters saw Priebus and Scaramucci, who was on the telephone and carrying a bag, boarding the aircraft using the rear staircase.

Priebus has grown increasingly isolated in the White House, as past Republican National Committee colleagues and other allies have left or been pushed out of the West Wing. Those who have departed include former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer and press aide Michael Short.

The chief of staff made an appearance Thursday at an East Room event where Trump honored first responders, acting as if nothing was amiss.

Asked if Trump had confidence in his chief of staff, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not answer directly, saying: “I think I’ve addressed this question when it comes to staffing and personnel many times, that if the president doesn’t, then he’ll make that decision. We all serve at the pleasure of the president and if he gets to a place where that isn’t the case, he’ll let you know.”

Priebus did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

On-the-job humiliation is often part of the deal in Trump’s White House, as Priebus well knows. At a meeting of auto company CEOs in Michigan in March, Trump praised the executives and then said, “And then I look at Reince,” drawing scattered laughs with a tone that suggested Priebus was a less impressive presence. Trump quickly added that Priebus has “done a great job.”

Trump structured the White House in a way that undermined Priebus’ authority from Day One. In a highly unusual arrangement, he said Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon would serve as “equal partners” in implementing his agenda.

In a typical White House, most staffers, including the communications director, report to the chief of staff. But in Trump’s White House, a long list of top advisers bypasses the middle man. Scaramucci, social media director Dan Scavino and counselor Kellyanne Conway all report directly to Trump, as do the president’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers.

“I plan on continuing to serve and report directly to President @realDonaldTrump at the @WhiteHouse, as I’ve done since 1/20/2017,” Scavino tweeted over the weekend.

Trump has also maintained a near open-door policy, with top aides casually poking their heads in constantly to speak with the boss.

“They’ve got all these chiefs running about with or without the title of chief,” said William Daley, the second chief of staff for President Barack Obama. He said that under Obama, there were high-ranking players with direct access to the president, but he was clued in on any policy or governing conversations, noting: “There was a sense that people were working together.”

Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under George W. Bush, said there are multiple ways to effectively run the White House. George H.W. Bush ran a hierarchical West Wing with a powerful chief of staff who controlled access to the Oval Office. When his son came to office, he chose a different model, creating a system under which numerous senior aides were able to walk into the Oval Office and speak to the president, even if, on paper, they technically reported to someone else.

The difference now, he said, is that Trump has created a faction-driven White House, noting: “I just think he has too many independent power centers and not enough team players.”

The lone voice coming to Priebus’ defense Thursday was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called the fellow Wisconsinite a “close friend” and said, “I think he’s doing a great job as chief of staff.”

But from within the White House there was less vocal support. Asked on Fox Business Network whether Priebus is in trouble, Conway replied: “You’d have to ask the president that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: Please fire Robert Mueller!

For all my friends who think I have finally gone off the deep end, I really do not want Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired. I do think the firing of Mueller, if it happens, may be the only way to end the tyranny of President Donald Trump.

Trump has already fired FBI Director James Comey, as well as releasing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Press Secretary Sean Spicer. This does not include a half dozen lesser-known officials who have been shown the door in the first six months of Trump’s presidency. Nor does it include the likely departures of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Special Counsel Mueller.

Trump fired Comey out of fear of where the Russian investigation was headed, although he told the public that Comey had lost the confidence of FBI employees. There was no evidence to support that. Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that Comey was fired because “he was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken care of.” Or, so he thought!

Terminating Mueller would mean that the two highest-ranking officials investigating the Russian influence in the 2016 election were fired. If Mueller is fired, Republicans will quickly distance themselves from Trump, something they should have done long ago. Democrats will clamor for Trump’s impeachment.

The American public will be asking why Trump fired both Comey and Mueller. What did he have to fear?  What was hiding in his financial records that might demonstrate Trump’s ties to Russian government and business?

If Trump has nothing to hide, as he has maintained from the beginning, then why stop the investigations?  What could be better for Trump than to be given a clean bill of health by one of the most respected individuals in government?  If that were to happen, I could envision Trump’s early morning tweet: “I told you so. What a waste of taxpayer’s time and money. I have been completely exonerated.”

A clean bill from Mueller would do more to help Trump than anything imaginable. Mueller is a decorated Vietnam veteran, a respected attorney, and appointed by Republican president George W. Bush as Director of the FBI in 2001. Mueller served the full ten-year term and stayed on for two additional years at the request of President Obama.

Not only is Mueller universally admired by both Republicans and Democrats, but he is more trusted by the American public than is the president. 64 percent of Americans said, “Donald Trump is more concerned about protecting his administration from being investigated,” than “protecting the United States from Russian interference.” When asked if President Trump should stop the investigation by the Special Counsel, 81 percent said no.

The attacks on Mueller are two-pronged. First, Trump has attacked the scope of the investigation. Trump told The New York Times that if Mueller looks at anything involving his business dealings, “that’s a violation.”

Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the media that “the investigation should stay within the confines of Russian meddling in the election. Nothing beyond that.”

Both Trump and Sanders fail to recognize that Mueller’s mandate was given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who appointed Mueller to his position. Rosenstein stated that Mueller had the authority to look into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.”

The second attack on Mueller relates to potential “conflicts of interest.” Trump argues that the day before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel he was being interviewed to head the FBI. “He wanted the job,” said Trump. Even if he did, I am not sure how this constitutes a conflict of interest.

The Justice Department regulations do allow the Special Counsel to be fired for “conflict of interest,” as well as “misconduct, dereliction of duty and incapacity.” Rosenstein has stated he sees no grounds for removing Mueller.

During the debate at the Constitutional Convention on impeachment, George Mason of Virginia asked whether “any man be above the law.” Future president James Madison included some of the grounds for impeachment, including that the president “might betray his trust to a foreign power.” (Now known as the Trump Provision.)

If Trump is wise, he will let the Mueller investigation run its course. Wisdom has not been one of Trump’s strengths during his first six months in office.

Trump could fire Mueller, and that would lead to a constitutional crisis. Perhaps nothing could be done to unify the nation or the political parties more than Trump acting like Caesar.

Trump and his advisors are looking at whether he can pardon himself and family members. Although there is no precedent for this, Trump is not likely to find this a successful path.

If, as Trump has repeatedly stated, there is no substance to the allegation of collusion with the Russians, then let Mueller complete his investigation and issue his findings.

If there is something that would indicate collusion between Trump and the Russians, then Trump would be best advised to step aside and let Vice President Mike Pence assume office.

To a great extent, Trump may have one last chance to “make America great again.”


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida Politics and Elections.


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