Three more administration officials head toward Trump’s losers’ circle

November 15, 2018

Insiders at the White House might be humming Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” as—just a week after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—the president prepares once again to reconfigure his cabinet and West Wing staff.

First on the list of goners is almost certainly Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security. She has long been a target of Trump’s tirades, three people close to the president told The New York Times for a November 13 report. Indeed, the POTUS had floated the idea of dismissing Nielsen ahead of his trip to Paris for World War I commemoration ceremonies.

And if Nielsen goes, one of her strong supporters may be ousted, too. Internally at the White House, the Times said, removing Nielsen is perceived as a way for President Trump to push out White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, without directly firing him.

Although, the news outlet said, Trump and Kelly supposedly arrived at a plan earlier this year for the chief of staff to stay through the 2020 election, the POTUS privately has hinted that he would not bet on Kelly remaining in his job that long.

Kelly’s likely successor already is in the queue: Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, long has been seen as a prospective replacement for Kelly, if and when he makes his exit—and is favored by the president’s family members, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Trump.

Finally, another administration official who is at or near the departures gate, following a run-in with First Lady Melania Trump, is Mira Ricardel, who serves as a deputy to National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Ricardel, who previously worked at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, had disparaged two members of the East Wing staff during the FLOTUS’s trip to Africa last month, a Times source said. She also is rumored to have tangled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on issues of policy and Pentagon personnel.

The rift with Melania Trump hit the headlines this week when—in a highly unusual statement about West Wing personnel matters—a spokesperson for the first lady, Stephanie Grisham, addressed Ricardel’s status. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said.

Since the president hates interpersonal confrontation, he often delays dismissals and then delegates them to Kelly. How these next staff changes will be handled is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @maggieNYT

CNN sues Trump and White House aides for pulling Acosta’s press pass

November 14, 2018

CNN on November 13 filed a lawsuit against the President Donald Trump and several of his aides—including Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Director of the U.S. Secret Service Randolph Alles, and Secret Service Agent “John Doe” in his official capacity—in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demanding that the press credentials of Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta be restored, the network reported.

“The suit escalates a long-running feud between President Trump and CNN and could test the limits of the president’s ability to crack down on news organizations whose coverage he does not like,” CNN said.

According to the terms of the complaint, Acosta has covered the White House since 2012 and, since 2013, has possessed press credentials—often called a “hard pass”—that allow him regular and unescorted access to White House briefings. However, on November 7, the defendants “revoked Acosta’s White House credentials because, in the president’s own words, Acosta failed ‘to treat the White House with respect’” at a briefing.

What’s more, the suit alleges “the revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning; as the president explained there ‘could be others also’ who get their credentials revoked.”

In the suit, the cable news network accuses Trump and other administration officials of violating Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process, respectively, and asks the court—presided over by Trump appointee Judge Timothy J. Kelly—to immediately remediate the issue by replacing the credentials.

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” CNN said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

Indeed, said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker in an internal memo to staff, “This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented.”

The White House responded immediately, with Sanders remarking that CNN is “grandstanding” by suing. She said the administration will “vigorously defend” itself. (Read the White House’s full response here.)

Specifically, the White House initiated its action against Acosta after he refused to give up his microphone to an aide and continued to question the president. Sanders has characterized that action as improper, saying that Acosts “plac[ed] his hands on a young woman.”

However, other reporters seated nearby did not confirm the White House’s accusations. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted on November 8, “The White House press office is sharing a manipulated video that makes it appear that Acosta was menacing the intern when he was not and did not. The intern reached over Acosta to grab the microphone while he trying to ask another and Acosta tried to pull away.”

Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said in a statement on November 13. “We continue to urge the administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent. The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”

“I have always endeavored to conduct myself as a diligent but respectful reporter who asks probing but fair questions,” Acosta wrote in  a formal statement. “The revocation of my White House press credential not only destroys my ability to perform my current job, it will follow me for the rest of my career. My reputation and my future career prospects have all been significantly harmed if not completely devastated.”

 Research contact: @brianstelter

Trump rails against recounts in Florida

November 13, 2018

Even as word came in early on November 12 that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had taken 49.6% of the Arizona vote in the race for U.S. Senate against the GOP’s Martha McSally (48.1%), President Donald Trump railed against the continuing recounts in Florida—the results of which could change the balance of power in Washington, D.C.

The president alleged, without any solid evidence, that many ballots in the Senate and gubernatorial races were “missing and forged” and that a valid tally  would not be possible, according to a same-day report by the Washington Post.

“An honest vote count is no longer possible—ballots massively infected,” the president tweeted at 7:44 a.m. (ET).

Instead of a recount, Trump suggested that the results from the night of the November 6 midterm election should stand, handing victories to fellow Republicans Rick Scott, the governor, in the Senate race and Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, in the gubernatorial contest.

Must go with Election Night!” the POTUS said.

However, the recounts continue. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties began retabulating the vote on November 10, while Broward started on November 11. The recounts are happening in accordance with Florida law because of the tight margins in the votes, the Post said.

Notwithstanding those recounts, Trump is not alone . On November 11, Scott went on national television to accuse Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, whom  still is hoping to unseat, of trying to “commit fraud to try to win this election,”  the Post reported, noting, “His campaign said it had filed lawsuits against Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, the election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two Democratic strongholds. Democrats called it desperation by a candidate sitting on a precarious vote lead.”

Scott made his comments in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” after his lead shrank to fewer than 13,000 votes in a race with national stakes. In a separate Fox News television appearance Monday, Scott called Nelson a “sore loser” and alleged that “he’s just here to steal this election.”

Nelson fired back on Twitter on Monday, the Post reported, writing that there is “zero evidence backing up claims by Republican extremists that Democrats are trying to steal the election.”

In the Senate contest, Scott’s lead over Nelson has narrowed to 12,562 votes out of more than 8 million ballots cast, the news outlet said—or a margin of 0.15%, according to an unofficial tally Saturday from the state. State law mandates a machine recount if the margin is half a percentage point or less.

The governor’s race also has tightened, with DeSantis ahead by a mere 0.41%. If that margin holds, it would fall short of the 0.25% threshold for a more involved manual recount.

The election results are slated to be certified on November 20. Newly elected senators are expected to report to Washington, D.C., this week for orientation. Scott said he has not decided his schedule yet. The Senate will swear in new members in January.

Research contact: sean.sullivan@washpost.com

Americans rally nationwide in support of Mueller probe

November 12, 2018

Americans took to the streets at 5 p.m. on November 8—staging massive rallies from New York to Los Angeles in support of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose Russia investigation, they feared, might be curtailed or blocked completely following the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the request of President Donald Trump.

Approximately 900 protests nationwide were mobilized within moments. They stood ready to activate when and if the president “crossed a red line” that would threaten the probe.

According to a report by USA Today, the rallies were part of a coordinated effort by a large number of liberal groups, which had planned a “rapid response” to protect Mueller, if it became necessary. 

The groups’ website, headlined “Nobody is above the law—Mueller protection rapid response,” referred to the appointment of interim Attorney General Matt Whitaker as the impetus for the protests, saying, “Donald Trump has installed a crony to oversee the special counsel’s Trump-Russia investigation, crossing a red line set to protect the investigation. By replacing Rod Rosenstein with just-named Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s boss on the investigation, Trump has undercut the independence of the investigation.

“Whitaker has publicly outlined strategies to stifle the investigation and cannot be allowed to remain in charge of it. The Nobody Is Above the Law network demands that Whitaker immediately commit not to assume supervision of the investigation. Our hundreds of response events are being launched to demonstrate the public demand for action to correct this injustice. “

President Trump, who embarked on a trip to Paris on November 9, has given no indication that he would end the investigation, which he has dubbed a “witch hunt.” But, USA Today reported, “the ousting of Sessions will give the president authority to replace him with someone who could attempt to derail the investigation, which is also examining possible obstruction of justice by the president.”

Also on November 8, attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia—Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut , Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island, Washington, Virginia, New Mexico, and Maryland—sent a formal letter to Whitaker requesting he recuse himself from the investigation due to his previous comments

“Because a reasonable person could question you impartiality in the matter, your recusal is necessary to maintain public trust in the integrity of the investigation and to protect the essential and longstanding independence of the department you have chosen to lead,” the letter reads.

Research contact: CHayes@usatoday.com

Matt Whitaker’s appointment may be illegal, says Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano

November 9, 2018

Following his lightening-fast dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the wake of the midterm elections, President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general may do his agenda and his reputation more harm than good: It may constitute obstruction of justice in the ongoing Russia investigation. And it also may be illegal, Andrew Napolitano, senior judicial analyst for Fox News, said on November 7, according to a report by the Huffington Post.

“Under the law, the person running the Department of Justice must have been approved by the United States Senate for some previous position. Even on an interim post,” Napolitano told Fox News’ Dana Perino, who hosts The Daily Briefing. 

Sessions was canned on Wednesday—in his resignation letter, he said he was leaving at the request of the president—and Napolitano said his interim replacement should have been Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

While Whitaker was confirmed by the Senate in 2004 when he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, according to the HuffPost, Napolitano said that he was nevertheless ineligible to serve in his current post as the confirmation was not “for a leadership position in the Justice Department.”

“Who has been confirmed and who’s next in line? Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein,” Napolitano added.

Research contact: @davefbarden

Trump boasts about ‘Big Victory’ in midterms

November 8, 2018

You win some; you lose some—that is, unless you are U.S. President Donald Trump. Never one to admit defeat, even in the face of a major setback, The New York Times reported that the president “wasted little time on Wednesday morning trying to frame his party’s election losses as a win,” even though Democrats had seized control of the House of Representatives.

In a string of tweets on November 7—this one, at 6:21 a.m.—the POTUS was self-congratulatory and smug about his prospects, saying, “Received so many Congratulations from so many on our Big Victory last night, including from foreign nations (friends) that were waiting me out, and hoping, on Trade Deals. Now we can all get back to work and get things done!”

At the same time, President Trump quickly went on offense against the newly elected Democratic House–threatening to retaliate if the opposition uses its new subpoena power to investigate him for corruption and obstruction of justice—in what the Times characterized as “an early foreshadowing of the bitter partisan warfare that could dominate the next two years.”

At 8:04 a.m., he tweeted: “If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!”

He touted the GOP victory in the Senate, where Republicans defeated three Democratic incumbents  (in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri) and were leading in Florida and Montana, while losing only one of their own seats in Nevada. If they hold on to their current leads, the Times reported, Republicans will increase their majority in the upper chamber from 51 seats to 55, giving them far more maneuvering room as they confirm judges and other appointments”by the president.

However, the loss of the House represents a major blow to the president and his supporters: As of Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up 26 seats with 23 races still to be called—giving them the subpoena power that Trump dreads, as well as the opportunity to refuse to proffer any resources for a wall on the southern border.

Among other things, the Times reported, “Democrats likely will demand the release of tax returns that he has kept secret, look into his business dealings, and reopen the House investigation into any ties between Mr. Trump’s team and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.”

“We’ll fill in the gaps on the Russia investigations,” Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on NBC News on Wednesday morning. “The American people will see his tax returns, not because of any voyeuristic interest, but because they should know if he is corrupt. And we will look at the cashing in of access to the Oval Office and that has been concerning and his financial entanglements overseas.”

Even more dangerous to the president, a Democratic House has the power to impeach him—even if legislators cannot muster the two-thirds vote required for conviction in the Senate.

Research contact: @peterbakernyt

In effort to intimidate voters, Trump and Sessions warn of fraud at polls

November 7, 2018

On the day before the midterm elections, November 5, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued strong warnings about the threat of voter fraud —echoing what the Washington Post characterized as “the president’s baseless claims that massive voter fraud marred his 2016 election and prompting accusations that his administration is trying to intimidate voters.

In a tweet early Monday, Trump said that law enforcement has been “strongly notified” to watch for “ILLEGAL VOTING.” He promised that anyone caught voting improperly would be subjected to “Maximum Criminal Penalties.”

Sessions, in a statement laying out the Justice Department’s plans to monitor ballot access on Election Day, said “fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.

In remarks to reporters on his way to a campaign rally in Cleveland, Trump also falsely claimed that voter fraud is commonplace, the Washington Post said.

“Just take a look,” he said. “All you have to do is go around, take a look at what’s happened over the years, and you’ll see. There are a lot of people—a lot of people—my opinion, and based on proof—that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally. So we just want to let them know that there will be prosecutions at the highest level.”

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, the Post reported, noting that the president had formed a commission to study the issue shortly after he took office that was disbanded without finding evidence of fraud after states refused to turn over voter data.

Voting rights advocates denounced Trump’s remarks as a blatant attempt to intimidate voters on the eve of Election Day—and part of a pattern among Republicans, they said, to curtail voting access with strict rules that disproportionately affect voters of color who tend to vote Democratic.

“I find this kind of conduct incredibly anti-patriotic,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a voting rights group that has successfully challenged several new voting restrictions across the country this year, told the Post. “At a time when we need our White House and Justice Department speaking out against the relentless campaign of voter suppression in this election cycle, it defies reason.”

Research contact: amy.gardner@washpost.com

Pundits shift nine House races toward Democrats

November 6, 2018

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted nine House races toward Democrats in a new forecast published on November 5—the day before the midterm elections—The Hill reported.

The changes predicted by Cook are as follows:

Three races — in Texas’s 6th and 10th Congressional Districts and in West Virginia’s 2nd — moved from solid Republican to likely Republican. Two other races—Florida’s 25th and 6th districts, went from likely Republican to leaning Republican.

The movement is the latest indication that Democrats still have the upper-hand in the House prior to Tuesday’s midterms, when Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to regain control of the lower chamber. 

Research contact: @thehill

Gillum on Trump calling him a thief: ‘If I’m stealing anything, it’s hearts and minds’

November 5, 2018

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum gave President Donald Trump some strong pushback on November 1 for calling him a thief—saying on MSNBC’s Morning Joe , “If I’m stealing anything, it’s hearts and minds.”

Trump’s “thief” attack on Twitter referred  to an FBI investigation regarding possible corruption in Gillum’s administration during his tenure as mayor of Tallahassee. Gillum has not been convicted of any crime and has said repeatedly he is not the subject of the probe, The Hill reported on November 2..

However, that did not stop the president from tweeting, on October 29 at 10:54 a.m.:” In Florida there is a choice between a Harvard/Yale educated man named @RonDeSantisFL who has been a great Congressman and will be a great Governor—and a Dem who is a thief and who is Mayor of poorly run Tallahassee, said to be one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!”

Gillum said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday that his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis and Trump have taken this race “to the gutter” and are distracting voters with “sideshows” instead of talking about the issues, the political news outlet said..

“This is more the same of what we get from this President and from my opponent,” Gillum said.

DeSantis immediately sparked controversy just a day after he and Gillum won their respective primaries in August when he urged voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, who would become the state’s first African-American governor if elected on November 6.

The latest CNN poll, conducted between October 29 and October 30, shows that Gillum is leading the race by one point—making it too tight to call.

Research contact: @owendaugherty

Oprah campaigns with Stacey Abrams in tight Georgia governor’s race

November 2, 2018

American icon Oprah Winfrey—whom a May 2018 Zogby Analytics poll found to be popular among 53% of likely voters; compared to President Donald Trump, who only would have garnered 47% of the vote in that matchup—campaigned for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams (D)  on November 1.

If elected, in the tight battle against current Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), Abrams –a former state House Minority Leader—would become the nation’s first black female governor.

Declaring herself inspired to rally behind the “bold” and “bodacious” campaigning for Stacy Abrams, Oprah jumped into the 2018 midterm elections, saying she wanted to be part of the historic campaign, according to a same-day report by CBS News.

Although rumors flew about her own candidacy for higher office after she gave a rousing speech at the Golden Globe Awards last January, Winfrey this week reiterated,  “I don’t want to run,” at a rally in Georgia. “I’m here today to support a change-maker.”

Aptly backed by Aretha Franklin’s “Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves,” Oprah boldly hit the hustings, and asked women in the state to rally behind a “Georgia warrior.”

Abrams “is someone who dared to believe she can change the state,” Winfrey said, according to the network news report. The entertainment mogul stressed that she is a registered Independent, not beholden to any political party, but was called to support Abrams because she stands for issues that she cares about. “She cares about Medicaid expansion, keeping families together, and environmental protection for our children so they’ll have clean water and won’t be wearing oxygen masks,” Winfrey said.

At a separate rally for Abrams’ Republican opponent in Georgia, Brian Kemp, Vice President Mike Pence alluded to the Winfrey event and suggested it wasn’t appropriate for the state’s voters.

“This ain’t Hollywood,” Pence said. “I’ve got a message for all of Abrams’s liberal Hollywood friends.” He continued, “This is Georgia, and Georgia wants a governor that is going to put Georgia values and Georgia first.”

The Georgia governor’s race has gained national attention because of extreme ideological differences between Abrams and Kemp as well as allegations of voter suppression. An NBC News/Marist College poll released on October 24 found that Abrams and Kemp are virtually tied in the Georgia gubernatorial race, with Kemp leading Abrams among likely voters—46% to to 45%. Libertarian Ted Metz garnered support from 4% of likely voters.

At the Abrams rally, Winfrey stressed that supporting the campaign was her idea. “Nobody even asked for me to come here,” she said. She planned to go door-to-door to campaign on a personal level for the candidate after they staged two rallies.

Research contact: @hrosenkrantz