Posts tagged with "The Hill"

Biden says Lindsey Graham is a ‘personal disappointment’ as a former friend and colleague

December 21, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden called Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) “a personal disappointment” when asked about his friendship with his former Senate colleague in an interview that aired on Friday, December 18, The Hill reports.

“Lindsey’s been a personal disappointment because I was a personal friend of his,” Biden told talk show host Stephen Colbert when asked whether he could patch things up with the Republican senator.

Biden and Graham served in the Senate together before Biden became vice president eight years ago.

Graham has previously spoken emotionally about his friendship with Biden, notably calling him “the nicest person I think I’ve ever met in politics” in a 2015 Huffington Post interview.

“If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, ‘cause, what’s not to like?” Graham told the HuffPost at that time, calling Biden “as good a man as God ever created.”

Graham was also particularly critical of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at the time—calling him a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.”

However, Graham’s tune has changed dramatically over the past four years. The South Carolina Republican is seen as one of the most vocal allies of the president, The Hill notes—and was initially slow to formally accept Biden’s presidential victory. 

Graham, along with a number of other Republican senators, said they accepted Biden’s win after the Electoral College vote on Monday.

Biden will face a bitterly divided Congress when he takes office next month but has touted his history of reaching across the aisle as a senator and vice president.

“I think I can work with Republican leadership in the House and the Senate,” Biden told Colbert.

“I think we can get things done, and I think once this president is no longer in office, I think you’re going to see an impact on the body politic fade, and a lot of these Republicans are going to feel they have much more room to run and cooperate.”

Research contact: @thehill

Daddy dearest: Ivanka Trump shares photo of father on Mount Rushmore

December 8, 2020

On December 7, devoted “first daughter” Ivanka Trump tweeted out a photo of President Donald Trump that showed him smiling alongside the past commanders-in-chief—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—whose heads are chiseled on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota..

According to a report by MSN, The snapshot appeared similar to one the president had tweeted in August, when he denied a report by The New York Times that the White House had reached out to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) about adding his face to Mount Rushmore.

Trump , himself, tweeted at the time it was “never suggested,” although “based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!”

When asked by The Hill last year if his head should be carved among the giant granite landmark, Trump replied, “If I answer that question, ‘Yes,’ I will end up with such bad publicity.”

At a 2017 rally, Trump quipped to the crowd, “I’d ask whether or not you think I will someday be on Mount Rushmore.”

Research contact: @MSN

Mnuchin puts $455 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds beyond Yelin’s reach

November 26, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has moved $455 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief capital from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s General Fund—making it much more difficult for his chosen successor, Janet Yellen, to access the emergency funding, The Hill reports.

Indeed, the political news outlet notes, it may require another act of Congress for Mnuchin’s designed successor to deploy COVID relief patyments.

Mnuchin said last week that he was shuttering a handful of the Fed’s emergency lending facilities, a move the central bank opposed in a rare critical statement. While those facilities were little-used during the pandemic, they were seen as confidence boosters for capital markets.

Mnuchin at the time requested the Fed return the funding, which Congress appropriated to cover potential pandemic-related losses, saying the CARES Act from March set a legal deadline for the facilities to expire by year’s end.

CARES Act watchdog, Bharat Ramamurti—appointed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) last April to oversee the funds—told The Hill that Mnuchin’s move was unlawful. “This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,” he said on Twitter. The good news is that it’s illegal and can be reversed next year. For its part, the Fed should not go along with this attempted sabotage and should retain the CARES Act funds it already has.

Neither the Treasury Department nor the Biden transition team immediately responded to a request for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

ABC’s Raddatz: ‘Is the president planning a military operation?’

November 12, 2020

Could Trump possibly be planning to go down fighting? ABC’s Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz has questioned whether outgoing President Donald Trump is “planning a military operation” amid a flurry of Pentagon resignations, The Hill reports.

“No one has seen anything like this. There is concern about what this means,” Raddatz told ABC’s David Muir on World News Tonight, asking, “Is the president planning a military operation or the use of federal troops, which [former Defense Secretary Mark] Esper opposed?”

The resignations came Tuesday, November 10,  from the Pentagon’s top policy official James Anderson, the agency’s top intelligence official Joseph Kernan; and Jen Stewart, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper before Trump fired him Monday.

Raddatz echoed sentiments expressed by President-elect Joe Biden, who has said Trump’s refusal to concede “will not help the president’s legacy.”

According to The Hill, she pointed towards other GOP members voicing support for Esper’s role as defense secretary despite Trump’s removal of him on Monday.

“Even Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) praised Esper today, and Republican John Cornyn (Texas), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said of Trump’s decision to fire Esper, ‘I don’t think it helps him and I don’t think it helps the country.'”

Esper’s firing by Trump also comes as the president has indicated to allies that FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel stand as the next officials in line for removal. However, he has yet to take action.

Experts in national security are concerned any further disruptions of administrative roles in the Department of Defense, FBI. and CIA could create a problematic and disjointed transfer of power when Biden is slated to take the Oval Office on January 20.

Max Stier, director of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that oversees the Center for Presidential Transition, told CNN the importance of a swift and stable transition of power from presidents post-inauguration, citing the George W. Bush and Al Gore White House race of 2000.

“You look back to 9/11 and the 9/11 Commission. It was very clear, looking back, that some of the delays that then-President George W. Bush experienced during the transition resulted in his delaying getting his national security team in place. And that hurt us,” Stier said, citing the 9/11 Commission report.

“What’s at stake, really, is our security, our safety. And with the world we’re in today, with economic challenges that are incredibly severe, we have a lot that we should be worried about,” said Stier.

Research contact: @thehill

California Biden supporters discover blue dots painted in front of their homes

November 4, 2020

Residents of Roseville, California—a city with a population of 140,000 in the Sacramento metropolitan area—have “the blues.” Last weekend, they discovered blue dots spray-painted in the street in front of homes with Biden-Harris campaign lawn signs prominently displayed, according to local affiliate KCRA-TV..

That’s enough to make an openly Democratic household more than a little paranoid, The Hill reports.

Roseville resident Adam Quilici told the TV news outlet that he was making breakfast when a neighbor told him to look in front of his home. He said a blue dot was painted in the road in front of his house.

Other residents told the news outlet they believe the dots were painted between Saturday and Sunday.

“The houses that were targeted have Biden-Harris signs in front of them—every single one,” Quilici told KCRA-TV. “There aren’t any blue dots anywhere where there are not those signs present.”

Quilici called the police, according to the news outlet, and they told him that they believed him after making sure it had nothing to do with utilities.

“This is not just a smashed pumpkin on Halloween,” Quilici said. “This is like a message and I’m not really OK with it.” 

The Roseville Police Department told KCRA-TV that several calls were made concerning the blue dots. It said that the dots only appeared in one neighborhood, and that none of the signs were damaged.

The Hill has reached out to the police department for comment.

The Roseville incident is not the only report of threats toward supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California.).

Across the country in Maryland, a letter was sent to a home with Biden-Harris signs that specifically threatened to beat Biden and rape Harris. It also appeared to threaten former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords (D), who became a staunch advocate for gun control legislation after she was critically wounded in a 2011 shooting.

“If you are a Biden-Harris supporter, you will be targeted. We have a list of homes by your election signs. We will not comply or give anything up, especially our guns,” the letter reportedly stated, according to local Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL. 

Several incidents involving “Trump Trains” of vehicles carrying armed Republican supporters also were reported last weekend. In Texas, supporters of President Donald Trump riding in trucks surrounded a Biden-Harris campaign bus, and attempted to slow the bus down and force it off the highway, according to Biden supporters. In New Jersey, a caravan comprising hundreds of trucks and cars flying MAGA and American flays shut down lanes on the Garden State Parkway.

Research contact: @thehill

Proud Boys deny sending threatening emails to Democratic voters in multiple states

October 22, 2020

Law enforcement officials have been notified that voters in multiple states have received personalized emails purporting to be from the Proud Boys—a far-right, neo-fascist white supremacist group. The messaging is filled with intimidating threats aimed at Democrats, if they do not change their vote to Republican, The Hill reports.

CNN and The Washington Post first reported that voters in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Alaska, and Florida all said they received threatening emails warning them to vote for President Donald Trump in the upcoming election, adding that the mysterious sender claimed to have access to voter history and “will come after you” should they fail to vote for the president.

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” reads one email obtained by the Post,. Dozens were reportedly sent, including more than 180 to students, faculty and staff of the University of Florida, a school spokesperson told CNN.

Chris Krebs, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeted that the agency was “aware of threatening emails with misleading info about the secrecy of your vote.”

“This is what we mean by not falling for sensational and unverified claims. The last line of defense in election security is you—the American voter. So be prepared, be a smart consumer and sharer of information. Vote with confidence,” added Chris Krebs.

Elections officials in Alaska and Florida confirmed to CNN that they were aware of the emails, with Alaska’s Division of Elections telling the network that federal authorities had been alerted. Representatives with elections boards in Pennsylvania and Arizona did not immediately return The Hill’s requests for comment. A spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Anchorage also did not immediately return a request for comment from the Post.

The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, told USA Today and CNN in a statement that his group was not responsible for the emails, which appeared to have been sent from an email address affiliated with the group but may have been the result of spoofing software, one expert told CNN.

“No, it wasn’t us. The people [who sent the emails] used a spoofing email that pretended to be us,” Tarrio said. “Whoever did this should be in prison for a long time.”

“We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group,” he added.

Trump recently faced criticism after he demurred follow his prompting by Fox News’s Chris Wallace to disavow the group during the first presidential debate between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“Stand back and stand by,” Trump said during the contentious debate.

Research contact: @thehil

Editor’s note: According to multiple sources, U.S. officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with faked but menacing emails and warned that both Iran and Russia had obtained voter data that could be used to endanger the upcoming election.

 

Democrats unveil bill creating panel to gauge president’s ‘capacity’ to lead

October 11, 2020

On Friday, October 9, House Democrats unveiled legislation that would create a panel tasked with gauging President Donald Trump’s mental and physical fitness to perform his job—and potentially, with removing the POTUS from office in a case of decided debility, The Hill reports.

Indeed, Under Amendment 25, Section IV of the U.S. Constitution, the Congress may remove the president under the following circumstances: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

The commission would be permanent, applying to future administrations, but it’s a clear shot at President Trump, whose reaction to his treatments for the coronavirus has raised questions about his mental acuity.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), whom The Hill characterizes as “a sharp critics of the president,” has fueled those questions in the days since Trump returned to the White House after three nights in the hospital. She has floated the idea that Trump’s drug regimen—which includes a steroid linked to mood swings—might be affecting his decision-making.

“The president is, shall we say, in an altered state right now,” the Speaker told Bloomberg News on Thursday.

The Democrats’ legislation invokes the 25th Amendment, which empowers Congress to create “a body” which, working with the vice president, can remove a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Sponsored by Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), a former professor of constitutional law, the bill would create a 17-member panel charged with judging the president’s fitness —and empowered to remove that figure when deficiencies are determined. In such a case, the vice president would take over.

“This is not about President Trump; he will face the judgment of the voters,” Pelosi told reporters Friday. “But he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.”

The proposal has no chance of being enacted, with Congress on recess and the Senate and White House currently controlled by Republicans. Indeed, GOP leaders have already dismissed it as a political stunt. 

But the bill marks another effort by Democratic leaders to energize their base ahead of the November 3 elections, while feeding accusations that Trump—already under fire for his fitful response to the coronavirus pandemic—has become increasingly erratic under treatment for his own case of COVID-19.

Research contact: @thehill

A shot in the dark? Drug companies issue rare joint pledge on vaccine safety

September 9, 2020

On September 7, nine pharmaceutical companies issued a rare joint pledge—intended to reassure the American public about the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines that currently are under development.

The statement from the top drug companies working on COVID-19 vaccines—including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna—comes amid fears that President Donald Trump will continue to place pressure on the industry to speed up the vaccine approval process without proper oversight, and doubts among the public about taking a vaccine, The Hill reports.

The joint pledge states that the companies will not seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for their vaccines until a rigorous phase 3 clinical trial shows that it is safe and that it works. 

The companies pledged they would “only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.”

The companies said they would “always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.”

Highlighting the fears of political interference, Trump on Monday floated the idea of having a vaccine before Election Day on November 3. “We’re going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about,” he said at a news conference.

Trump has put pressure on the FDA before, saying that the “deep state” at the agency was throwing up roadblocks before the agency issued an emergency authorization for a coronavirus treatment known as convalescent plasma.

According to The Hill, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn also has offered reassurances that his agency will base vaccine decisions only on science and not on politics.

But the statement from the pharmaceutical companies is an illustration of how deep the fears are about politicization of the process and the need for companies to try make their own reassurance about science guiding the process.

An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll last month found that a significant portion of the public (35%) did not intend to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump campaign aide paid $20,000 a month by Bannon’s shifty We Build the Wall organization

September 2, 2020

Senior Trump campaign official Jason Miller appears to have been paid about $20,000 a month for work done for We Build the Wall, the supposed nonprofit organization co-founded by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, according to public court filings obtained by Salon.

Bannon was arrested along with three others—and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to the fundraising campaign for the “ private border wall”—the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

The We Built the Wall nonprofit — now reportedly under investigation in connection with the federal charges against Bannonstarted paying Miller the same month that Bannon’s associates learned they were under federal investigation, court documents and public reports show.

The Trump campaign has not disclosed any payments to Miller since news of his hiring broke in June, Salon notes—nor has the campaign disclosed any salary payments to campaign manager Bill Stepien, according to mandatory federal filings. Publicly available court documents obtained by Salon together with Federal Election Commission (FEC) records suggest that the campaign is paying Miller $35,000 a month, apparently through non-public indirect transactions.

Although prosecutors do not explicitly name Bannon’s nonprofit in the indictment, the document describes “Non-Profit-1” as predating the crowdfunding campaign and being dedicated to promoting “economic nationalism and American sovereignty.” This would appear to describe the Bannon-founded nonprofit called Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), which first filed a tax return in 2017. Its website says the group “seeks to advance the ideals of Economic Nationalism and American Sovereignty.”

Miller co-hosted a podcast with Bannon for COAR, reportedly beginning in October 2019.

In an August 23 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Miller told host Chuck Todd that although he had worked for COAR, he had not been interviewed by government investigators. “I have not, and from public reports it looks like this investigation was going long before the podcast even started, the podcast and the radio show that I co-hosted with Steve,” Miller said.

While the exact timeline of the federal investigation is not a matter of public record, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner reportedly opened a probe into We Build the Wall in May 2019, but had not been contacted by SDNY investigators despite referring elements of the case to the FBI.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have charged Bannon, along with co-defendants Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, with running a multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering scheme, in which they secretly siphoned millions of dollars in payments from their We Build the Wall crowdfunding campaign through a shell company as well as an unnamed nonprofit.

The group disguised the allegedly unlawful transactions with fake invoices to hide their own personal takes, according to the indictment.

Bannon denies the charges.

Research contact: @Salon

Steve Bannon charged with defrauding donors of ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign

August 21, 2020

Steve Bannon—the architect of the Trump campaign’s 2016 win and #45’s former chief strategist in the White House—has been arrested along with three others and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to a fundraising campaign for a private border wall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea allegedly defrauded donors to the online crowdfunding campaign known as We Build the Wall, which raised more than $25 million. The four defendants were expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon.

Bannon is just the latest member of the president’s inner circle to face criminal charges:

  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian diplomat. He has since backed out of a plea agreement, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to withdraw its case against him.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison on an array of bank and tax fraud charges.
  • And Trump commuted the three-year-and-four-months prison sentence of his former adviser Roger Stonein July, just days before Stone was scheduled to report to a federal corrections facility.

In a formal press release from the SDNY, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “[Starting in approximately December 2018] …as alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction. 

She added, “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.  We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”

According to The Hill’s report, the four men are facing charges including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The indictment suggests that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating the organization as early as last October, while Geoffrey Berman was the office’s U.S. attorney. The Trump administration forced Berman out of his position in June in a high-profile spat during which the prosecutor initially refused to resign.

When asked for comment by a pool reporter on Thursday, a White House spokesperson said, “I refer you to DOJ; this is not a White House matter.”

We Build the Wall did not immediately respond to a message from The Hill seeking comment.

Kolfage launched We Build the Wall on GoFundMe in late 2018—quickly raising more than $20 million, before the site threatened to remove his page unless he identified a valid recipient of the funds.

Based on the indictment, Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato then formed a nonprofit called “We Build the Wall, Inc.” to receive the GoFundMe money.

Despite Kolfage’s promises that he wouldn’t be taking a salary, federal prosecutors alleged that the group of defendants schemed to pass along hundreds of thousands of dollars to him to help “fund his lavish lifestyle.”

Kolfage allegedly took a total of $350,000 from the organization, passed through a series of bank accounts, nonprofits and bank accounts between January and October of 2019.

One nonprofit controlled by Bannon received more than a million dollars,  The Hill says—some of which he passed on to Kolfage, while taking a “substantial portion” for personal gain.

In October, prosecutors allege, the defendants realized they might be under criminal investigation, halted their secret payment scheme and amended the organization’s website to note that Kolfage would be paid a salary beginning this January.

Research contact: @thehill