Florida asks Congress for $27 billion in initial hurricane disaster aid

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2017 @ 7:41 AM

A day after elected officials from Texas asked Congress for almost $19 billion in direct aid to help with recovery from Hurricane Harvey, lawmakers from the state of Florida dropped off their own request for $27 billion in relief related to damage from Hurricane Irma, joining Texas in making clear that’s just a ‘down payment.’

In a letter to key lawmakers in Congress, Florida’s Congressional delegation made clear that $27 billion for the Sunshine State “will likely cover only part of the state’s overall recovery costs and that additional funding will likely be needed once a more thorough damage assessment is complete.”

“Almost a month later, Floridians are still recovering, and much work remains to be done,” the letter stated.

The request from Florida is like that from Texas – an effort to get Congress to add more money to a $29 billion disaster aid supplemental spending plan submitted to lawmakers earlier this week by the White House.

The Florida request includes:

+ $10 billion to deal with water projects impacted by Hurricane Irma.

+ $7 billion for Community Development Block Grants to help repair damage from the storm.

+ $5 billion in agricultural aid, both for citrus growers and livestock interests.

The U.S. House is scheduled to vote next week on that extra funding from the Trump Administration, but it isn’t clear how much more lawmakers might add, as the requests from Texas and Florida are an extra $46 billion above this White House request – and both states have made clear they need much more than that figure.

A Senate vote on a new round of hurricane disaster relief is not expected until later in the month. The Senate is not in session for legislative work next week. Senators return to Washington on October 16.

Unlike in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New Jersey in October of 2012, Republicans in Congress have made no effort to push for offsetting budget cuts to pay for disaster aid in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

That means all of the money approved for hurricane disaster relief will simply be added to the federal deficit.

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House Democrats release rebuttal intelligence memo on Russia probe

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 12:38 PM

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released their redacted response to a Republican memo on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Democrats charged that the GOP omitted numerous details about the FBI’s probe during the campaign for the White House.

“FBI and DOJ officials did not “abuse” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” the Democratic memo states.

“The FBI supplied information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Russia might be colluding with Trump campaign associates,” Democrats said in a press statement announcing the release of the memo, which had been held back earlier this month after the White House raised questions about details included in the ten page memo.

“Some time ago, Republicans on our committee released a declassified memo that omitted and distorted key facts in order to mislead the public and impugn the integrity of the FBI,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel.

“We can now tell you what they left out,” Schiff added.

Democrats said their rebuttal “should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC,” as they said the evidence “failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement.”

Democrats not only countered that, but raised questions about the testimony of one-time Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who was the focus of the original Republican memo, as the GOP raised questions about how surveillance had been approved of Page.

Democrats said the answer was not the information supplied by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

Some portions of the document on those points were blacked out, or redacted.

You can read the full Democratic memo at this link.

Democrats also released a fact sheet to go with the memo.

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Outlook unclear at best in Congress as Trump pushes for actions to deter school shootings

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 4:11 AM

In the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, President Donald Trump on Saturday signaled again that he wants changes in background checks for those people who are buying firearms, as he emphasized his call for Congress to make a series of reforms to gun-related laws, also urging state and local officials to do more to toughen security at their schools.

“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!,” the President tweeted.

White House officials said Mr. Trump would again press his call for action on issues of school safety in coming days as he meets with the nation’s Governors, many of whom will be in Washington, D.C. for their yearly legislative conference.

But the question remains – what will the Congress do? Or what can Congress do?

1. Some details still murky on what the President wants to do. While the President has a ready list of items on which he is asking for action in the Congress, the exact details will determine how the Congress reacts. For example, Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants ‘comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health’ – how that is structured is an extremely important point. While it may sound completely logical that someone who has mental issues should not be able to buy weapons, those details are not easily fleshed out.  While he has talked repeatedly about background checks, the President has never addressed the issue of private gun sales – what is sometimes referred to as the ‘gun show loophole’ – which is something members in both parties have talked about dealing with for several years.   At a Friday news conference with the Prime Minister of Australia, here’s how the President set out what he wants accomplished:

2. The push for the “Fix NICS” bill. Even before the Florida school shooting, there was a bipartisan effort to make some changes to ensure that more information is funneled into the background check system for gun buyers, whether it’s on mental health, or military charges which would disqualify someone who wants to buy a firearm. The House already passed the “Fix NICS” bill – but it was combined with another measure that approved a national “Concealed Carry” effort, which would allow anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon to do that in any state – even if that state has different laws and regulations governing such conduct. While that combination was approved by the House, it seems doomed in the Senate, and it is one reason that some lawmakers are now pressing for action on just the “Fix NICS” plan, which the President has endorsed.

3. How much would the Congress really do under Trump’s plans? This is a question that’s up for debate. Think of the President’s call for certain teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons at schools – that seems more of a state and local matter than something which would be legislated by the Congress. Increasing security measures at schools – the Congress could deliver aid, but the idea of approving new spending is not exactly a popular item with some Republicans right now in the House and Senate. Changing the age of purchase for certain weapons like an AR-15 might sound attractive to some, but that is guaranteed to be controversial as well in Congress – especially when states might be able to take that same step on their own. The “gun violence restraining order” is another idea that’s popped up as a way to keep the mentally ill from access to firearms – but is that better done by state legislatures instead of the Congress?

4. There has been some movement in Congress – but not much. Yes, we have examples of members of Congress who have changed their position on certain gun issues, but by no means has there been an upheaval on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Florida school shooting, just like there was no major change after past school shootings. Yes, the President has talked to House and Senate leaders about the gun issue – but don’t expect gun legislation to be on the floor next week or anything. Here is one GOP lawmaker who said he wants to revisit that ban – but that’s just one.

5. The outlook for the short-term – more of the same. While the Florida school shooting has energized younger Americans and their call for action, there is no sense that Republicans are about to dramatically change course on guns. As someone who has covered the gun debates since the 1980’s in Congress, the House and Senate right now have large majorities in favor of gun rights – and it has been that way since Democrats pushed through the Brady law and an assault weapons ban back in the early 1990’s. Change could always happen – but as of now, it’s hard to see that occurring in 2018.

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

What You Need To Know: Rick Gates

Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

READ MORE: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates face new charges: report | Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probeWho is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

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Third Trump Campaign official pleads guilty in Russia investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 9:55 AM

Former Trump Campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. federal court on Friday to a pair of charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, becoming the third person from the President’s 2016 campaign to accept a plea bargain with investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

For weeks, news reports had said that Gates was under pressure to agree to cooperate with prosecutors, as he was the one-time right hand man to former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. The feds say both men engaged in extensive efforts to avoid reporting millions of dollars in income from political work done for a pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine.

In new documents filed earlier in the day, the feds again set out a highly detailed and extensive series of financial transactions by Manafort, Gates – and several unnamed conspirators – to funnel “millions of dollars in payments” into foreign companies and bank accounts around the world.

Along with pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the United States by conspiring to avoid taxes on millions of dollars in payments , Gates acknowledged in this plea bargain to lying to investigators – just three weeks ago.

One additional note – on that day that Gates lied to investigators, February 1, his original attorney filed a motion with a federal judge to immediately withdraw as Gates’ lawyer.

The reason wasn’t known – as the details were filed under seal, and kept secret.

Gates is the fifth person to publicly plead guilty to a charge in the Mueller investigation; none of the allegations leveled by the feds against either Manafort or Gates have centered on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Gates also becomes the third member of the Trump Campaign to plead guilty in this probe, joining foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The plea bargain would seem to ratchet up the pressure on Manafort, as the two men have worked together for many years in the private sector as political consultants and lobbyists, and then for Mr. Trump in 2016.

Gates was originally indicted along with Manafort in late October 2017 on a 12-count indictment covering money laundering, false statements, and not registering as a foreign agent.

A superseding indictment was filed Thursday afternoon against Manafort and Gates, 32 criminal counts which featured charges of income tax evasion, bank fraud, and conspiracy.


In the latest indictment, the feds charge that Manafort and Gates made “tens of millions” of dollars
from their work with a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, and then “engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities.”

The plea bargain by Gates comes a week after a federal grand jury indicted a group of Russians, as the feds set out the details of a well-financed operation that used social media to mainly support the candidacy of President Trump, and raise questions about the bid of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.

This was the reaction from Manafort to the Gates plea.

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