May, 2017

White House Grants Ethics Waivers to 17 Appointees

“The White House disclosed Wednesday evening that it has granted ethics waivers to 17 appointees who work for President Trump and Vice President Pence, including four former lobbyists,” the Washington Post reports.

“The waivers exempt the appointees from certain portions of ethics rules aimed at barring potential conflicts of interest. In letters posted on the White House website, the White House counsel’s office wrote that the waivers were in the public interest because the administration had a need for the appointees’ expertise on certain issues.”

“The rate at which the Trump White House has handed out waivers is far faster than that of the Obama administration, which issued 17 exemptions for White House appointees over eight years.”

Obama Buys Washington, D.C. Home for $8.1 Million

Former President Obama and former first lady Michelle purchased the home in Washington, DC that they have been renting, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, closing on the $8.1 million purchase on Wednesday.

Said a spokesman: “Given that President and Mrs. Obama will be in Washington for at least another two-and-a-half years, it made sense for them to buy a home rather than continuing to rent property.”

Congress Investigating Another Sessions Meeting

“Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign,” CNN reports.

“Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions… They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others.”

Trump Moves to Return Russian Compounds

“The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, from which its officials were ejected in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” the Washington Post reports.

“Then-President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being ‘used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes,’ and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian ‘intelligence operatives.'”

Sean Spicer Storms Out of Briefing Again

CNN: “For two days in a row, since returning from President Trump’s trip abroad, the White House press secretary has held uncharacteristically short press briefings in which he claimed not to know the answer to questions, outsourced questions to other officials or dismissed the premise of questions entirely.”

“Both briefings included less than 20 minutes for questions — far less than most prior briefings — and ended with Spicer abruptly exiting the room to the consternation of reporters.”

Mulvaney Slams the CBO

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney opened fire on the Congressional Budget Office, asserting in an interview with the Washington Examiner that the day of the CBO as a non-partisan arbiter of legislation “has probably come and gone.”

Mulvaney claimed the CBO’s scoring of the House Republican healthcare bill was “absurd.”

He added: “How much power do we give to the CBO under the 1974 Budget Act? We’re hearing now that the person in charge of the Affordable Health Care Act methodology is an alum of the Hillarycare program in the 1990s who was brought in by Democrats to score the ACA.”

Biden Launches a Political Action Committee

Former Vice President Joe Biden “is planning to create a political action committee, the most concrete sign yet that he intends to remain active in the Democratic Party and is considering a presidential bid in 2020,” the New York Times reports.

“The American Possibilities PAC will offer the former vice president a platform he can use to nurture relationships with donors, travel on behalf of the party and contribute to candidates in the two governor’s races in November and in next year’s midterm elections… By creating a political organization, Mr. Biden, 74, is also sending an unmistakable message to the many other Democrats eyeing the White House that he is not planning to quietly recede into retirement.”

Russia Investigation Could Reveal Trump’s Tax Returns

Politico: “The president and his beleaguered White House staff have given no outward sign that they have thought about the prospect yet. But in interviews, veteran federal prosecutors and legal scholars said that Mueller, who began his investigation only last week, has clear-cut authority to obtain the president’s tax returns—perhaps the most sensitive and sought-after government documents since the Pentagon Papers—from the IRS if Mueller suspects they might contain evidence of a crime.”

“And short of firing Mueller and shutting down his investigation, Trump—who is the first president in 40 years to refuse to make his tax returns public, despite once promising to do so— would have almost no way of stopping him. In fact, the prosecutors said, the president and his lawyers would not necessarily even know that Mueller had obtained them.”

Trump Keeps In Touch with Roger Stone

Ryan Lizza: “Part of being a Trump adviser is to constantly put up with Trump’s abuse and willingness to attack or publicly undercut you… Stone has been through this cycle many times over. As Stone left the studio on May 11th, the President, who the evening before had essentially pretended not to know him anymore, had a simple message: good job.”

“But, aside from contradicting Trump’s claim of not talking to Stone, the call is unusual for another reason.”

Explained ethics lawyer Norm Eisen: “The conventional wisdom is that when someone has exposure to obstruction-of-justice liability, as Trump certainly does, he should avoid unnecessary reaching out to others involved in the investigation, lest he make things worse for himself. But Trump is famously unorthodox. Indeed, that is how he got into this mess in the first place. Trump just added another item to the investigators’ checklist.”

Clinton Rips Media for Coverage of Her Email Server

“Hillary Clinton lambasted the media’s coverage of her use of a private email server as secretary of State, arguing Wednesday that she did nothing wrong and charging that the media’s fixation on the matter allowed Republicans to effectively exploit it,” The Hill reports.

Clinton argued that most people viewed the issue as “the biggest nothing-burger ever.”

Said Clinton: “They covered it like it was Pearl Harbor.”

House Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

“The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three others are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.”