April 19, 2019
The federal judge who reviews documents for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dissemination is asking to scrutinize the redacted version of the Mueller Report, in order to ensure that all deletions have been made for legal purposes—and not with the intent of withholding information from the Congress or the American public.
As reported by The Daily Beast, Federal District Judge Reggie Walton expressed interest in reviewing the Mueller report redactions in order to expedite Freedom of Information Act requests for the highly anticipated report.
“Obviously there is a real concern as to whether there is full transparency,” Walton said at a Tuesday court hearing regarding a request from BuzzFeed to have the Justice Department release the report quickly under FOIA. “The attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned.”
If Walton is successful, the review would be a win for those suing for the report’s release because it would bring in a judge to look at the reasoning over redactions. It is unclear whether the version of the report made public Thursday will be identical to what the department releases under FOIA.
“That’s something we’ll have to work through and something I’ll have to think about,” Walton said.
Indeed, according to Politico, Justice Department attorney Courtney Enlow declined to say whether the version of the report made public Thursday will be identical to what the department releases under FOIA. Nor could she say whether she’d be prepared to commit to that during another hearing set for May 2 on the BuzzFeed case and a related suit.
“I can’t give you a timeline,” Enlow said.
However, the judge said Tuesday that he plans to “fast track” the issue of the report and what information in it must be disclosed, then deal with other records from Mueller’s probe.
Walton said he hopes any disputes will be limited because the Justice Department makes the bulk of the document public.
“I would hope that the government is as transparent as it can be,” the judge said.
Research contact: @thedailybeast
April 18, 2019
Five Democratic presidential hopefuls will take questions and lay out policies, one right after the other, at CNN town halls next Monday, April 22, in New Hampshire—the state that traditionally hosts the first primary challenge of the campaign season, the cable news network has announced
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, Senator Kamala Harris (California), Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) will participate in the live, internationally telecast event.
The current leader in the race—former Vice President Joe Biden, with 27% of the vote in Iowa, according to a recent Monmouth University poll—is still undeclared; and, therefore, has not been invited to the event.
The CNN town halls are being co-hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College and the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. The presidential candidates will field questions directly from students and young New Hampshire Democrats, said a CNN spokesperson, who added that the audience will be drawn from the two schools and a pool of young Democrats living in the state.
Chris Cuomo will moderate the Klobuchar (7 p.m. ET) and Sanders (9 p.m. ET) town halls, Anderson Cooper will moderate the Warren (8 p.m. ET) and Buttigieg (11 p.m. ET) town halls, and Don Lemon will moderate the Harris (10 p.m. ET) town hall.
The CNN town halls will take place on the campus of Saint Anselm College, and has been scheduled coincide with the release of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School’s new national poll of young voters.
Research contact: @CNNPolitics
April 17, 2019
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld—who served the Bay State from 1991 to 1997—announced on April 15 that he would challenge President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“It is time to return to the principles of Lincoln—equality, dignity and opportunity for all,” Weld, age 73, said in a written announcement that made no mention of Trump, the Journal noted. Instead, he referenced “great political strife” and blamed both parties for a “win at all cost” mentality.
Weld represents a flank of the GOP that sees Mr. Trump as disruptive to longstanding party ideology on topics such as foreign policy and trade, but this group has been largely muffled since the 2016 election.
Trump commands widespread support among the Republican base, and he has a formidable re-election war chest. The Trump campaign said it raised $30 million in the first three months of this year and had $40 million in the bank as of March 31. The campaign also is fully integrated with the Republican National Committee, giving it an additional $42 million in available cash.
“Trump’s grip on the party is strong,” Republican donor and Trump fundraiser Dan Eberhart said. “The party isn’t looking for a Massachusetts liberal.”
Mr. Weld served two terms as governor in the 1990s and was viewed as a moderate, reflecting the state’s electoral makeup. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama over fellow Republican John McCain. In 2016, he ran as the running mate to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
The Massachusetts resident is banking on a strong performance in New Hampshire, which will hold the first-in-the-nation primary in February 2020
The weekly news magazine has said that there are four other Republicans who could possibly challenge the Trump machine for the presidency—naming the possibilities as Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, newly re-elected Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Nebraska Senator Benn Sasse.
Research contact: @WSJ
April 16, 2019
But on April 11—after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London and ejected from Ecuador’s embassy following his seven-year asylum there—President Trump told reporters at the White House, “I know nothing about WikiLeaks.”
And White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick to come to his defense. “Look, clearly the president was making a joke during the 2016 campaign,” Sanders told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace about Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks.
Sanders spoke about Trump’s WikiLeaks remarks after the Department of Justice charged the website’s fugitive founder Julian Assange with computer hacking following his arrest in London, partly in connection with a U.S. extradition warrant.
The Department of Justice indicted Assange on a charge of conspiring with former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to hack a classified government computer. Manning provided WikiLeaks with a trove of secret government documents that the website published in 2010.
In his own defense, NBC News reports, Assange has insisted that the United States is trying to infringe on journalistic freedom.
Assange and WIkiLeaks were at the forefront of leaking stolen emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, including from 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Research contact: @NBCNews
April 15, 2019
He had virtually no name recognition just a few months ago (and those few who knew his surname could not pronounce it), but Pete Buttigieg is now a rising star among the growing ranks of Democrats who have announced for the 2020 presidential race.
Biden leads the 2020 Democratic presidential field in Iowa, according to findings of a poll released April 11 that also suggests Pete Buttigieg—a small-city mayor from Indiana is gaining significant traction with likely caucus-goers, Politico reported.
The Monmouth University poll shows that Biden, who hasn’t officially entered the race, is the first choice of roughly one-quarter of likely caucus-goers, at 27%. He’s followed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 16%; and Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, with 9%.
That very unexpectedly places Buttigieg marginally ahead of a handful of candidates who entered the race with more established profiles: Sensators Kamala Harris (D-California) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) are at 7 %, former Representative has 4% of the vote; and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey.) is bringing up the rear at 3%.
The last nonpartisan poll in Iowa—conducted a month ago for CNN, the Des Moines Register, and Mediacom, a local cable company — also had Biden atop the field with 27%. Sanders was closer, with 25% of the vote. But Buttigieg was an also-ran in that survey, with just 1%.
In the interim, however, Buttigieg has been headlining the news due to a fracas with Vice President Mike Pence, whom the candidate worked with as governor of Indiana before the 2016 elections.
Pence, who comes from the ranks of the religious right, is not a supporter of gay unions. Buttigieg, who is gay and married, recently said, “”If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you [have] got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Not only did voters seem to like that argument, but they like the fact that Buttigieg, the first Millennial to run for president (at age 37), has been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, a graduate of Harvard University, and a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve who served in Afghanistan, in addition to the mayor of South Bend.
According to Politico, Buttigieg still lags most of the other major candidates in name recognition, the poll shows. Nearly a quarter of caucus-goers (24%) say they haven’t heard of the mayor of the nation’s 301st-largest city; compared to 3%percent who haven’t heard of Warren, 7% who haven’t heard of O’Rourke, 10% percent for Harris and 11 % for Booker. (Biden and Sanders have universal name-ID among Democrats.)
But Buttigieg has his fans: 45 percent of caucusgoers view him favorably, while 9 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. The remaining 22 percent say they have heard of Buttigieg but don’t have an opinion of the 37-year-old candidate.
The Monmouth poll was conducted April 4-9, among 351 likely Democratic caucus-goers.
Research contact: @politico
April 12, 2019
In a move that bowed to the president rather than American values, the Treasury Department refused to hand over the Donald Trump’s tax returns by the April 10 deadline that had been specified by the House Ways and Means Committee, NBC News reports.
On the one hand, the House committee asserted that § 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly states that it is entitled to receive the tax returns.
Indeed, the law dictates: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury]shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request….”
On the other hand, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a letter to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), said that the Treasury was continuing to review Democrats’ request in light of “serious issues” about whether the request is proper.
Neal said in a brief statement only that he had received Mnuchin’s letter and that he was consulting with legal counsel, promising a response “in the coming days.”
In filing a formal request with the Treasury Department last week, Neal had said, “I am certain we are within our legitimate legislative, legal and oversight rights.”
Mnuchin said at a Ways and Means hearing last month that he would protect Trump’s privacy.
His letter went further, according to NBC News, claiming, “”The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power.” Mnuchin said he was consulting with the Justice Department about the legality and constitutionality of Neal’s request.
Mnuchin said that “for the same reasons,” he intended to supervise the department’s review personally.
The president, himself, has insisted that his tax returns are under audit and cannot be released for that reasons. However, according to the network news outlet, tax experts have said that, even if he is under audit, there’s nothing to stop Trump from releasing his returns.
Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the ranking Republican on Neal’s committee, welcomed Mnuchin’s letter, warning that the request “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“The tax code must not to be used for political fishing expeditions,” Brady said. “The Treasury Department is right to carefully review the privacy impact this request would have on every taxpayer.”
If the request continues to be denied, NBC News said, Democrats could consider legal action.
Separately, Democrats in New York, the president’s home state, introduced a bill in the legislature on Monday that would allow the state to release any state tax return requested by the three congressional committees. The bill would apply only to Trump’s state returns—not to the federal returns that Neal is seeking—but because the president’s businesses are based there, his New York returns are thought to be likely to include much of the same information.
Research contact: @NBCNews
April 11, 2019
While heads are rolling over at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week, Trump has not stopped there. He also is moving to do what no president has accomplished since World War II— eliminate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) a major federal agency that oversees the government’s 2.1 million strong civilian workforce, The Washington Post reported on April 9.
Indeed, the Post says, if the administration succeeds at disassembling the OPM—dividing it into functional sections that would be absorbed by other federal departments—the closure could be a blueprint for shuttering other agencies and shrinking the government. For example, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would take over high-level policies governing federal employees—a plan that advocates and unions already are discrediting as a backdoor ploy to politicize the civil service by installing appointees close to the White House.
The operation is expected to be observed closely—not just on Capitol Hill; but also by other agencies that could be next, and by organizations that support and represent for federal employees. The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, with 750,000 members, is calling the idea “Trump’s Dangerous Plan to Abolish OPM” and predicting a “disastrous” result if policy for federal employees moves so close to the White House.
Federal employees “would be forced into a fight for the pay and benefits they’ve earned every time an administration decides they want to free up money for a pet political project,” the union said.
Overall, the plan envisions a smaller, more consolidated government, in line with the president’s campaign promise to “cut so much your head will spin.” Wiping out the federal personnel agency could be part of a list of victories that Trump cites during the 2020 campaign, from deregulation and tax cuts to trade tariffs.
An executive order directing parts of the transition to take place by next fall is in the final stages of review, administration officials told the news outlet, with an announcement by President Trump likely by the summer. The 5,565 OPM employees were briefed about the reorganization at a meeting in March.
“It’s a big, exemplary step,” Margaret Weichert, deputy director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget— and acting OPM director—said in an interview with the Post. She characterized the agency created to oversee the civil service in 1978, as “fundamentally not set up for success, structurally.”
However, for Democrats and their allies in the labor movement, the effort to abolish the agency and redistribute its functions represents a power play in defiance of Congress.
“Does anyone really think that, if tomorrow the president said, ‘I’m dismantling DOD, and I think Ben Carson over at HUD can handle procurement and Betsy DeVos over at Education can handle the Army,’ that it would fly through?” asked Representative Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia.), chairman of a House Oversight Committee panel on Government Operations.
That’s a request it will not be easy to fulfill: The White House is short on details, even as it prepares to move employees out of OPM’s headquarters in downtown DC. Officials were not able to estimate the short- or long-term savings that would be realized as a result of the closure.
The administration is asking Congress for $50 million in fiscal 2020 to carry out the reshuffling, the Post reported.
Finally, the news outlet pointed out, breaking up OPM is not a Republican idea. The Obama administration discussed internally whether to do it, and so did Hillary Clinton’s team in 2016, civil service experts said. And the agency drew bipartisan fury in 2015 when U.S. officials alleged Chinese hackers stole millions of personnel records by hacking through the agency’s weak security system.
Research contact: @Reinlwapo
April 10, 2019
Now you see them; now you don’t. With DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen ousted on April 7 and Secret Service Director Randolf Alles axed on April 8, even President Donald Trump’s closest Congressional allies are aghast at the purge taking place at the Department of Homeland Security this week, Politico reports.
And the plethora of pink slips may just keep coming. Several more senior officials are said to be in the president’s sights—among them, L. Francis Cissna, the head of U.S. citizenship and Immigration Services and John Mitnik, the DHS general counsel.
“It’s a mess,” Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the news outlet, summing up the dynamic on the southern border and in Washington, D.C.
The president’s frantic four days of hatchet-wielding at DHS and other agencies has blindsided senior Republicans, who are urging him to stop the bleeding. Republicans note that the president has the right to fire whomever he wants, Politico said, but few offered an explicit defense of his decisions to force out DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; or remove the Secret Service director and threaten more terminations.
Cornyn said he has no idea what Miller’s “agenda” is in determining immigration policy because he isn’t Senate-confirmed and doesn’t correspond with the Hill.
Others believe the president is “losing it,” after backtracking on his threats to close the border, failing to get legal funding for the wall, and losing the court case on separation of families.
“Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem. Honestly, it wasn’t Secretary Nielsen’s fault. It wasn’t for lack of effort on her part. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s going to be able to do more,” said Cornyn, who spoke to Nielsen on April 8 and planned to speak to her interim replacement, Kevin McAleenan, later in the day.
“I thought that Nielsen was doing a fantastic job,” added Joni Ernst of Iowa, the No. 5 Senate GOP leader. “I would love to see some continuity. I think that’s important.”
Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior GOP senator, is trying to head off even more dismissals as Trump tries to reshape DHS into a “tougher” mold.
In an interview with Politico, Grassley expressed concern that Trump may soon boot U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna and Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, who heads the office of policy and strategy at USCIS.
“I heard that they are on the list to be fired,” Grassley said. “They are doing in an intellectual-like way what the president wants to accomplish. So no, they should not go.”
On immigration, the G.O.P. has not been in lockstep with Trump. So even as the president pursues more aggressive strategies on the border, the party might not stick with him ahead of an election cycle that has the Senate up for grabs and with Republicans eager to take back the House.
“He thinks it’s a winning issue,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican whip. “It works for him. It may not work for everybody else.”
Research contact: @burgessev
April 9, 2019
President Donald Trump is clearing the decks at the Department of Homeland Security—executing a purge of the nation’s immigration and security leadership, The New York Times reported on April 8.
After extracting a resignation from DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on April 7, and immediately elevating White House Adviser Stephen Miller—known to be a hard-liner—to direct the nation’s immigration policy; the president now is signaling that he means to remove the next level of agency management.
Inside the Beltway, it is rumored that Nielsen got the boot because she resisted reinstating a policy that separated migrant parents from their children—infuriating the president at a time when he still is struggling to get funding for his southern wall and has not been able to stem the flow of South American immigration to the U.S. border.
The White House confirmed the departure of Alles in a statement but made no immediate comment on the other pending moves, the news outlet said. The White House statement said that the president has selected James M. Murray, a career Secret Service official, to take over as director in May.
Alles “has done a great job at the agency over the last two years and the president is thankful for his over 40 years of service to the country,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in the statement.
Nielsen confirmed her resignation on Sunday and Ron D. Vitiello, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Services, was told on Friday to step aside. Trump said on April 5 that Vitiello would be replaced with someone who would move ICE in a “tougher” direction.
All were viewed as allies of John F. Kelly, the president’s former chief of staff and his President Trump.
Alles received instructions ten days ago to come up with an exit plan and was expected to leave on his own timeline, according to officials familiar with the internal discussions. The Times reported that the president had sought Alles’s resignation, in part because of the recent arrest of a Chinese woman who was carrying a malware-laced device on the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort property in Florida, exposing holes in the security of the private club.
Research contact: @nytimes
April 8, 2019
Although President Donald Trump claims that nobody’s interested in his tax returns—and that they are under audit anyway, so they cannot be released—House Democrats are through taking “no” for an answer—and last week, they set the stage for a major face-off with both the White House and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) formally requested President Trump’s personal and business tax returns on April 3, setting up what will likely become a protracted and high-profile legal battle between the administration and Congressional Democrats, The Hill reported.
Specifically, in a letter to the IRS, Neal requested Trump’s personal income taxes from 2013 to 2018, as well as the tax returns associated with eight of his business entities, and cited his oversight role to justify the request.
“Under the Internal Revenue Manual, individual income tax returns of a President are subject to mandatory examination, but this practice is IRS policy and not codified in the Federal tax laws,” Neal wrote in the letter, which was first obtained by CNN. “It is necessary for the committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return.”
Mnuchin—a loyal Trump insider—now “will have to balance his loyalty to Trump against a request that many experts say leaves him little wiggle room,” The Hill noted. As head of the department that comprises the IRS, Mnuchin will face pressure from Trump and congressional Republicans to push back on Democrats’ request.
“[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office—whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president,” commented Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, who testified before Congress in February about the need to request Trump’s tax returns.
Trump — the first president in decades to not voluntarily disclose any of his returns—quickly indicated his disdain for the request. “Until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he said last Wednesday.
As is to be expected, Republicans leaders are critical of the request. The top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), argued in a letter to Mnuchin on April 3 that the request is “an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority,” and he said it weakens Americans’ right to have their personal information kept private, The Hill reported.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the next day that courts have ruled that congressional requests for information need to have legitimate legislative purposes, and that he believes the Democrats have fallen short on that front.
Mnuchin said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing last month that the Treasury Department would “follow the law and we will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.”
The Treasury Department has not commented on the tax returns request since it has been issued.
“Secretary Mnuchin should have no involvement in responding to Chairman Neal’s request for President Trump’s tax returns,” Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said in a statement on April 4, adding, “Tax returns are held at the IRS and it is Commissioner [Charles] Rettig’s job to fulfill the agency’s legal obligations. If Secretary Mnuchin inserts himself that would be blatant political interference.”
Both Mnuchin and Rettig are scheduled to testify at congressional hearings this coming week, and lawmakers are likely to press them about their response to Democrats’ tax-return request. Democrats and supporters of the request say there’s no good reason for the administration to not comply.
Democrats also took issue with Trump’s comments about not providing his returns while under audit, arguing that the statute under which they requested the tax returns doesn’t leave the matter up to him.
“With all due respect to the president, we did not ask him for the tax returns, we asked the commissioner of the IRS,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Ways and Means Committee member, told The Hill on Thursday.
Republican strategists predict that Mnuchin will get involved and that it will be an easy decision for him to reject Democrats’ request.
“You’ve never seen a Cabinet secretary at that level not fight for the administration,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill. He predicted that Mnuchin is likely to let the issue end up in the courts.
Research contact: @thehill