February 20, 2019
A coalition of 16 states—led by California—filed suit on February 18 to block President Donald Trump’s ploy to fund a southern border wall by declaring a national emergency.
In addition to California, the other states that joined the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.
The plaintiffs called Trump’s declaration—which side-stepped a firm “no” to his request for $5 billion in funding for the wall from Congress— a “flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles,” Politico reported.
The complaint (State of California et. al. v. Trump et. al.)—which requested injunctive relief from the U.S. District Court for Northern California under proceeding #3:19-cv-00872—is the third in a string of legal challenges already launched against Trump’s use of emergency powers since he announced the move during a meandering White House news conference on January 15, the political news outlet said.
Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group, along with Frontera Audobon Society of South Texas, also filed a suit (Case No. 19-ev-404) late Friday—this one, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia— on behalf of three Texas landowners who would be impacted by the construction of a wall along the border.
“Rather than responding to an emergency requiring immediate action, the Declaration seeks to address a long-running disagreement between the President and Congress about whether to build a wall along the southwestern border and Congress’s refusal to appropriate funds for that purpose,” the complaint said.
“However,:” it continued, “under our Constitution, built on the principle of separation of powers, a disagreement between the President and Congress about how to spend money does not constitute an emergency authorizing unilateral executive action. The Declaration and the planned expenditure of Department of Defense funds for construction of the wall exceed President Trump’s authority under the National Emergencies Act, other statutes invoked by the President as authority to fund the wall, and the Constitution. The invocation of emergency powers and exercise of those powers, and the diversion of funds to build a wall, are thus contrary to law.”
And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics—a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC— has filed a motion against the Department of Justice demanding that the agency provide documents pertaining to the legal justification of the president’s emergency declaration.
Americans deserve to know the true basis for President Trump’s unprecedented decision to enact emergency powers to pay for a border wall,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, in a release from the group, adding, “We’re suing because the government has so far failed to produce the requested documents or provide an explanation for their delay.”
The states that filed against the president on February 18 argued that Trump engaged in an “unlawful scheme” when he “used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction, and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Politico.
“It’s kind of awkward to say that on Presidents’ Day we’re going to be suing the president of the United States, but sometimes that’s what you have to do,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said during a Monday appearance on CNN, after telegraphing for weeks that he was prepared to take swift legal action if Trump followed through on his repeated vows to invoke an immigration emergency to justify diverting wall funding.
Becerra, who is leading the states coalition, alleges that Trump “has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making” despite a refusal by Congress refusing to allocate the funds needed to start construction. It cites his remarks in the Friday news conference that he “didn’t need to do this” as evidence his emergency declaration was without merit.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
Research contact: @priscialva
February 19, 2019
What happened—in Hamburg in July 2017 and in Helsinki in July 2018—will remain there, if it’s up to the two global leaders who participated in those meetings: Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Apparently there are secrets that the American president has gone to great lengths to suppress—confiscating his translator’s notes of the Hamburg meeting; and allowing no detailed records of his private Helsinki sit-down , according to a recent report by Politico.
But with that silence comes an opportunity for coercion by Putin, who holds Trump’s secrets close at a cost: Intelligence officials fear that Putin may have compromised the American president, who could be following the Russian’s dangerous agenda out of fear of exposure and reprisals.
The chairmen of two powerful congressional oversight panel—Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) of the Intelligence Committee and Representative Eliot Engel (D-New York) of the Foreign Affairs Committee—told Politico late last week that “they are exploring options to legally compel the president to disclose his private conversations with the Russian president.”
The two lawmakers told the political news outlet that they are “actively consulting” with House General Counsel Douglas Letter about the best way to legally compel the Trump administration to come clean.
“I had a meeting with the general counsel to discuss this and determine the best way to find out what took place in those private meetings — whether it’s by seeking the interpreter’s testimony, the interpreter’s notes, or other means,” Schiff, told Politico in an interview.
According to the February 16 story, the move underscores the seriousness with which Democrats view Trump’s conciliatory statements and actions toward Moscow; and its place as a top House priority as the party pursues wide-ranging investigations into the president and his administration.
Specifically, Politico reported, Democrats want a window into the Helskini meeting last summer, during which Trump put himself at odds with the U.S. intelligence community and declared—while standing next to the Russian president—that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 elections.
“I don’t see any reason why [Russia would interfere with the 2016 election],” he said at the extraordinary news conference following the private confabulation.
Trump’s remark prompted Democrats to call for Marina Gross, the State Department translator who was the only other American present for the Trump-Putin meeting, to share her notes with Congress and testify in public.
Getting Gross’s notes and testimony may be a challenging task, Schiff admitted—noting possible legal roadblocks, including executive privilege.
“That’s a privilege that, based on first impression, is designed to facilitate consultations between the president and members of his staff and Cabinet — not to shield communications with a foreign leader,” Schiff said. “But that’s just a preliminary take. And once we get the studied opinion of the general counsel, then we’ll decide how to go forward.”
For his part, Engel told Politico, “I’m not saying that I’m in favor of interpreters turning over all their notes, but I do think that it shouldn’t be up to the president to hide the notes.”
The White House is expected to fight divulging the details of the discussions every step of the way.
Research contact: @desiderioDC
February 18, 2019
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld (R), who led the Bay State from 1991-1997, announced on February 15 that he was launching an exploratory committee for a potential 2020 White House bid—becoming the first Republican to take a significant step to challenge President Donald Trump, The Hill reported.
Weld sees his base as “never-Trump” Republicans, as well as Independent voters who are eager to push Trump out of the White House.
During a campaign announcement last Friday in New Hampshire, Weld outlined a number of policy differences between himself and the Trump administration, The Hill noted—while taking aim at Democrats whom, he argued, had abandoned the principles of fiscal responsibility. He also took aim at Trump personally, arguing that he was unfit for the presidency.
“[O]ur President is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office—which include the specific duty to take care that the laws be faithfully execute —in a competent and professional matter,” Weld said at the annual Politics & Eggs breakfast hosted by The New England Council. “He is simply in the wrong place.”
“It upsets me that our energies as a society are being sapped by the president’s culture of divisiveness,” Weld said, according to The Hill, adding, “Because of the many concerns I’ve talked about today, I’ve established an exploratory committee to explore the possibility of running as a Republican in the 2020 presidential election.”
The former Massachusetts governor fueled speculation of a presidential bid after he told The Boston Globe earlier this month that his planned speech in New Hampshire “will deal comprehensively with my thoughts about the 2020 election.”
Also raising eyebrows was Weld’s decision earlier this month to rejoin the Republican Party after switching to the Libertarian Party in 2016. That year, he was tapped to run as former libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s running mate.
“I’ve considered myself a ‘small-L libertarian'” for years, Weld added. “[But] I want to not dribble around the court, I want to go right for the hoop. If you want to go one-on-one, you have to go as an ‘R’,” he said of running as a Republican.
Weld’s path to the Republican nomination would be a narrow one, the news outlet said, noting that the GOP has largely consolidated behind Trump in recent years. At the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in New Mexico last month, committee members voted unanimously to approve a resolution declaring the party’s “undivided support for President Donald J. Trump and his effective Presidency.”
Research contact: @KMaxGreenwood
February 15, 2019
At just the time when the United States should be defending the sanctity of its electoral process, the Trump administration is cutting back on efforts to fight foreign interference at ballot boxes nationwide, The Daily Beast reported on February 13.
Indeed, two teams of federal officials assembled to fight encroachment are polling places by foreign powers are being dramatically downsized, three current and former Department of Homeland Security officials told the daily news outlet exclusively And now, those sources say they fear the department won’t prepare adequately for election threats in 2020.
“The clear assessment from the intelligence community is that 2020 is going to be the perfect storm,” said a DHS official familiar with the teams. “We know Russia is going to be engaged. Other state actors have seen the success of Russia and realize the value of disinformation operations. So it’s very curious why the task forces were demoted in the bureaucracy and the leadership has not committed resources to prepare for the 2020 election.”
The task forces, part of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), were assembled in response to Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election. One focuses in part on securing election infrastructure and the other focuses on foreign influence efforts, including social media disinformation campaigns.
According to The Daily Beast’s report this week, one of the task forces is now half the size it was a few months ago—and there is no indication that DHS senior political leadership will staff it up or sustain it. Instead, there are concerns it will completely wither away. The other task force also shrank significantly shortly after the midterms, according to the Beast’s sources, and before its members produced a thorough assessment of what happened during the 2018 elections.
“Our key allies are wondering why the United States is not more coordinated and not more proactive in dealing with this,” said one of the DHS officials. “They don’t understand why the U.S. is not getting its act together.”
A DHS spokesperson confirmed that some people have been taken off the task forces and moved to other roles in the department. The spokesperson added that the department is bringing on new people to do election security work.
“As recently as this morning, Director [Christopher] Krebs [of CISA] confirmed election security remains a priority for [the agency] in his testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security—laying out the agency’s plan to work with state and local election officials on broader engagement, better defining risk to election systems, and understanding the resources to manage that risk,” Sara Sendek, the DHS spokesperson, told the Daily Beast.
“In the run up to the 2018 elections, DHS staffed the newly created [the] Elections Task Force and Countering Foreign Influence Task Force by temporarily assigning personnel from across the department. The work of these task forces continues to this day and is being institutionalized as a permanent effort. While some of the personnel who were brought on to serve on these task forces in temporary assignments have returned to their regular roles, we are also currently hiring new employees into permanent election positions to build out our team and support our efforts for 2020 and beyond,” Sendek assured the news outlet.
“In some sense it’s not surprising that these changes are happening,” he said. “There was nothing set in stone that said these teams were going to stay in formation. At least that was my understanding.”
Others said they found the change concerning.
“The Trump administration intelligence chiefs in their worldwide threat assessment clearly stated that the use of influence operations from countries like Russia, China and Iran poses a significant threat to the country,” said John Cohen, the former deputy undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS. “If these reports are true, it’s highly disturbing that the department and the administration are not more focused on dealing with that threat.”
“It won’t be 2016 all over again—the threat is changing,” said a former DHS official. “A thinly staffed task force working on that is not going to be equipped to keep up with the adversary.”
The changes appear to reflect the White House’s lack of interest in beefing up election security, Paul Rosenzweig, formerly deputy assistant secretary for Policy at DHS, told the news outlet.
“If the president isn’t interested and there is no strategy, it’s no surprise that DHS is not wasting its time,” said Rosenzweig, now a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. “The failure of the White House to take this seriously is perhaps its single most significant dereliction of duty.”
Research contact: ERIN.BANCO@THEDAILYBEAST.COM
February 14, 2019
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia—who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—broke ranks on February 12 with committee Chair Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Warner contested his Republican colleague’s assessment that the panel had found no evidence of collusion to date during its inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Respectfully, I disagree,” Warner said, according to CNN. “I’m not going to get into any conclusions I’ve reached because my basis of this has been that I’m not going to reach any conclusion until we finish the investigation. And we still have a number of the key witnesses to come back.”
His statement came just hours before President Donald Trump’s former “fixer” and personal lawyer Michael Cohen told the committee that he would defer his testimony “due to post-surgery medical needs.”
Cohen had been subpoenaed by the committee on January 24 as a key source of information on the campaign’s contacts with Russia—one of the few individuals with a behind-the-doors perspective on Trump’s campaign machinations—but he has backed out three times. At least one of those times, Cohen claimed he was reluctant to talk because of “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. [Rudolph] Giuliani.”
On Tuesday night, CNN reported, Burr told reported on Capitol Hill, “I can assure you that any goodwill that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone.”
Burr reiterated that his committee had “no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” but that he wanted to interview Cohen before the former lawyer for President Donald Trump reports to federal prison next month.
However, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said the surgery excuse was accurate. “Mr. Cohen was expected to and continues to suffer from severe post shoulder surgery pain, as confirmed by a letter from his surgeon, which was sent to Senator Burr and Senator [Mark] Warner,” Davis said. “The medication Mr. Cohen is currently taking made it impossible for him to testify this week.”
The split in public comments between Burr and Warner marked a rare instance of a partisan divide between the two committee leaders.
“Several of the individual members have made statements, but I certainly am not prepared to make a statement as to what was found or not found,” he said.
Warner told CNN that lawmakers are still hoping to speak with a few witnesses, including Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen. The longtime Trump associate was scheduled to testify Tuesday, but postponed his appearance, citing medical reasons after a recent shoulder surgery.
Trump has repeatedly maintained that his campaign did not collude with Russia and he has welcomed Burr’s comments as proof of that fact.
Research contact: @jeremyherb
February 13, 2019
As President Donald Trump whipped his base into a lather on Monday night, February 11, at an El Paso, Texas, rally—demanding a wall at the southern border and demeaning the “Fake Media”— the violence that had been simmering for so long among his supporters ratcheted up.
Sporting a red Make America Great Again cap, a man leaped out of the audience, shoving and swearing at BBC cameraman Ron Skeans—whose camera feed splintered and revolved during the short altercation—and tried to strike at other news crews before being wrestled away by a blogger in the crowd.
A spokesperson for BBC told The Guardian in a statement that the cameraman was “violently pushed and shoved by a member of the crowd” while covering the event.
Meanwhile, BBC News Editor Eleanor Montague tweeted, “Just attended my first @realDonaldTrump rally where my colleague BBC cameraman Rob Skeans was attacked by a Trump supporter. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night #TrumpElPaso”
By the next morning, BBC Americas Bureau Chief Paul Danahar tweeted: “I’ve written to @PressSec asking for a full review of security arrangements for the media after last night’s attack on our BBC cameraman at the President’s rally. Access into the media area was unsupervised. No one in law enforcement intervened before, during or after the attack.”
He was disappointed by the response from the White House, which read, “An individual involved in a physical altercation with a news cameraman was removed from last night’s rally. We appreciated the swift action from venue security and law enforcement officers.”—Michael Glassner, Chief Operating Officer, Trump for President Inc.”
“I’m afraid this statement from the Trump campaign does nothing to address the security lapses at President Trump’s rally in El Paso last night when our BBC colleague was attacked,” Danahar commented on behalf of the news organization, adding, “There was not swift action to prevent or interrupt the attack by any security agency.
The BBC stated that the incident occurred after Trump “heavily criticized” the press.
At the event, President Trump checked that the media involved were well, responding with a thumbs up, and continuing his speech after the attacker was taken out of the stadium.
The White House had no further comment.
Other reporters had predicted that violence would erupt at a Trump rally, including CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, who tweeted in July, “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy.”
According to a report by The New York Times, In August, experts from the United Nations and a human rights body condemned the president’s attacks on the news media and warned that they could incite violence against journalists.
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Edison Lanza, who holds the same position at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement.
“We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence,” they said.
Research contact: @pdanahar
February 12, 2019
As President Donald Trump confirmed plans for a Monday night rally in El Paso, Texas, the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, asserted that the lower incidence of crime that the area has enjoyed in recent years has not been the direct result of fencing at the southern border.
The president is expected to exhort his base for a wall at what amounts to a major campaign event—being held just days ahead of the deadline for Congress to hammer out a deal on the budget and border security, NBC News reported on February 11.
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said in his State of the Union Address on February 6 “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
But the statistics don’t back him up. Mayor Margo notes. According to law enforcement data, the city had low crime rates well before a border barrier was constructed between 2008 and mid-2009.
Indeed, NBC News reports, violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.
Democratic officials immediately took issue with the picture Trump painted, saying the president was using their city to justify a pointless and unnecessary wall.
“The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ‘…considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities,'” the city’s sheriff, Richard Wiles, a Democrat, said in a statement after Trump concluded his address. “And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”
Margo said he’d correct the president if he reiterated falsehoods about El Paso on Monday. “The geography of Texas won’t allow a fence from El Paso to Brownsville even if you wanted to do it,” Margo said.
When pressed on the inaccuracy of the president’s claims, the White House said the high rate of crime in the city directly across the border—Juarez—proved that the barrier was responsible for the low crime rate in El Paso.
Research contact: @janestreet
February 11, 2019
In an interview with ABC News that was broadcast on February 8, First Daughter and White House Adviser Ivanka Trump said that she “barely” knew about the Moscow Trump Tower deal that her family’s business pursued while her father was running for president.
“Literally almost nothing,” Ivanka Trump said of her knowledge of the negotiations, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly was offered a free penthouse valued at $50 million if he signed off on the deal.
“There was never a binding contract. I never talked to the—with a third party outside of the organization about it. It was one of—I mean we could have had 40 or 50 deals like that, that were floating around, that somebody was looking at. Nobody visited it to see if it was worth our time. So this was not exactly like an advanced project,” the president’s elder daughter said.
“It’s not like it’s a strange thing, as a hospitality company or a development company, to have a hotel or a property in Russia. We’re not talking about Iran. It was Russia. And we weren’t even advanced enough that anyone had even visited the prospective project site. So it really was just a non-factor in our minds. I’m not sure that anyone would have thought of it,” she added.
But if it was not important, why did her father, then-candidate Donald Trump, deny it repeatedly?
“First of all, I don’t know Putin, have no business whatsoever with Russia, have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Kinston, North Carolina, on Oct. 26, 2016, ABC News noted.
Asked if she has any concerns about any of her loved ones being caught up in the ongoing Mueller probe, Ivanka Trump denied it.
“Are you concerned about anyone in your life that you love being involved?” ABC’s Abby Huntsman, co-host of the network’s morning show, The View, asked.
“I’m not. I’m really not,” Trump said.
Research contact: @JordynPhelps
February 8, 2019
Speaking to Newsweek after the story on the committee broke, Ocasio-Cortez—known in the media as “AOC”—stressed that she had turned down the position after it was offered by Pelosi and that her absence from the committee was not a “snub.”
AOC, who unveiled her progressive Green New Deal program on the same day, told Newsweek that her rationale for continuing to push her own legislation instead of joining the committee was, “[It’s an] …investigatory body. They’re tackling the investigative piece. And right now, we’re tackling the legislative piece.” She also pointed to her involvement in other House panels that would address climate change initiatives.
The new panel announced by Pelosi—which is charged with examining climate change and steps to mitigate it—will include lawmakers with a wide range of tenures, including three freshmen, The Hill reported.
“This new Select Committee will spearhead Democrats’ work to develop innovative, effective solutions to prevent and reverse the climate crisis,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It will generate the energy and action required to permanently reduce pollution so that we can honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.”
The Democratic members are Representatives Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico), Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon), Julia Brownley (California), Sean Casten (Illinois), Jared Huffman California.), Mike Levin (California), A. Donald McEachin (Virginia) and Joe Neguse (Colorado).
Neguse, one of the freshmen on the panel, tweeted on Thursday, “Excited to represent Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West on the Select Committee on Climate. I hope to be avoice for my generation by advocating for bold, progressive solutions on climate change. #ActOnClimate.”
The Republican members of the panel have not yet been named. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) is responsible for picking the GOP lawmakers.
Research contact: @Timothy_Cama
February 7, 2019
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham—a Democrat and a former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—ordered the state’s National Guard to withdraw a majority of its troops from the southern border on February 5, bashing what she called President Donald Trump’s “charade” shortly before his State of the Union Address.
“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,” she said in a public statement.
Grisham added, “We will support our neighbors where the need for assistance is great, and we will offer a helping hand when we can to those vulnerable people who arrive at our border, but New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops.
“We will deploy our men and women in uniform only where there is a need, and where their presence can make a genuine difference in ensuring public safety and an easing of the humanitarian concerns at our southern border.”
In pulling out most of New Mexico’s deployed troops, the governor also directed that the troops from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wisconsin should return to their own home states immediately. There were 118 total National Guard troops deployed in New Mexico.
In line with her intention to continue providing aid and assistance, Lujan Grisham made one exception in her troop withdrawal statement: She directed about one dozen troops in Hidalgo County and the surrounding southwestern areas to remain in place. Those troops, she said, will continue to “assist with the ongoing humanitarian needs of communities there, who have seen large groups of families, women and children crossing over the border in the remote Antelope Wells area in recent months.”
“I recognize and appreciate the legitimate concerns of residents and officials in southwestern New Mexico, particularly Hidalgo County, who have asked for our assistance, as migrants and asylum-seekers continue to appear at their doorstep,” she said.
The president did not react to the troop pullout by the governor in his SOTU speech on Tuesday night. He did, however, stick to his hard line on immigration, remarking, “walls work and walls save lives.”
Research contact: @DaniellaLSilva