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House approves GOP stopgap budget, as Senate leaders near overall spending deal

Published: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

Facing the threat of a government shutdown on Thursday night, the House voted along party lines Tuesday evening to approve a six week extension of funding for most federal agencies, while Senate leaders worked behind closed doors to come up with a broader deal to increase spending for the military and non-defense programs.

The GOP plan included full funding for the Pentagon, along with dozens of health care provisions that had backing in both parties.

“I find it so curious that there would be opposition to funding our military,” said Rep. Marsha Blackwell (R-TN), as the two parties duked it out over spending yet again on the floor of the House.

“Here we are again, left with this ludicrous approach of funding the U.S. Government month to month,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

“This is our fifth short term spending bill since September,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “This is pure incompetence.”

The vote was 245 to 182 for the plan. The bill now goes to the Senate.

While the two parties slugged it out in the House, top Senators in both parties were more optimistic that a deal was near on overall spending limits, which would funnel billions more into military and non-defense spending in 2018 and beyond.

“I think we’re on the way to getting an agreement and getting it very soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We’re making real progress on a spending deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters.

That type of deal seemed likely to boost overall spending – maybe by as much as $143 billion this year, as Democrats have said if the Pentagon gets more, then non-defense programs should as well.

Unlike the last shutdown battle, there was little talk of any deal on immigration, involving the future of 1.8 million illegal immigrant “Dreamers” – instead, the Senate seemed to be on the verge of starting a wide open immigration debate next week on the Senate floor.

“Whoever gets to 60 wins,” Sen. McConnell said, as Senators were struggling to put together a compromise immigration bill that could be accepted by both parties, the President, and overcome any filibuster in the Senate.

Meanwhile at the White House, President Trump threw a curve ball at Congress, when he threatened to force a government shutdown if Democrats did not agree to his proposals on a DACA/immigration deal.

Not long after that, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a shutdown was not the President’s goal – though it’s clear that Mr. Trump won’t accept just anything from Congress related to DACA.

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Digging inside the details of the new indictments in the Russia probe

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 12:13 PM

The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for President on Friday presented some of the first official government evidence of actions taken in the campaign, as a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities, alleging that they used social media to support President Donald Trump, and oppose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The highly detailed 37 page indictment covered everything from social media ads taken out by the Russian ‘Internet Freedom Agency,’ to efforts to help with Trump rallies in Florida and other states – and even a post-election foray into anti-Trump events.

Here is some of what we learned on Friday:

1. Russian interference no longer a “hoax.” For months, President Trump has complained that the Russia investigation is a hoax. But now, the feds have laid out a highly detailed indictment, alleging that 13 Russians and 3 different Russian entities used social media to buy political ads against Hillary Clinton (“Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”), and for Donald Trump (“Trump is our only hope for a better future!”), organized actual rallies to support Mr. Trump (“Florida Goes Trump”), and much more. “If you had any doubt that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections, this is your wake-up call,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). Back in September, the President derided the idea that Russian groups had bought social media ads in the 2016 campaign. “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” he tweeted. But Friday, the President seemed to finally accept that there had been Russian interference.

2. Rosenstein takes the lead on new indictments. While Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is officially the boss of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rosenstein has not participated in any of the earlier indictment or guilty plea announcements. But today, the ‘DAG’ was front and center at the Justice Department. He laid out the basics of the indictments of 13 Russians and described the outlines of the effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Rosenstein took only a few questions.

3. Trump – and his supporters – proclaim “NO COLLUSION.” On Twitter, and then in a statement issued by the White House on Friday afternoon, the President made clear that the latest indictments showed nothing in the way of collusion between Russians and his campaign. (The all-caps “NO COLLUSION” was in the White House statement.) But what was really said by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein? “Now, there is no allegation – in this indictment – that any American was a knowing particpant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, as he used “in this indictment” several times.

4. No names revealed of who Russians contacted. As the indictment detailed efforts by the Russians to set up events for Trump supporters in Florida, there were contacts made with people on the Trump Campaign. The indictment doesn’t list the names of those who were contacted by the ‘joshmilton024@gmail.com’ account – instead, they are referred to as “Campaign Official 1,” “Campaign Official 2” and so on. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Why not reveal who those people were? Is it really that big of a deal?

5. Mueller reveals some of his evidence. At one point in the indictment, the feds quote an email from one of the Russians, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, in which she said: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke).” While that jumps off the page of the indictment, it is also seems to send a message – that the FBI has a lot more information, from the social media accounts that were used by the Russians, to emails and more. Could some of this also be from intelligence efforts? We’ll see.

6. Hillary Clinton in a cage – Russian supported? In the indictment, it talks about how the Russians moved “to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting (Hillary) Clinton in a prison uniform. That jangled the memory of several reporters, who found stories about such a scene in Florida, during the 2016 campaign. And others remembered the Hillary-in-a-cage routine from other states.

7. After the election, the Russians play both sides. The indictment also revealed that after the election was over – and President Trump had been declared the victor – the Russians even went into the business of anti-Trump rallies in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina. “Trump is NOT my President,” was the rally in New York – while at the same time, the group was organizing an event to “support President-Elect Donald Trump.”



8. Another guilty plea as well for the Mueller probe. Minutes after the indictments against the 13 Russians was released, the Special Counsel also revealed a recent guilty plea, from February 2, of Richard Pinedo, from California. Pinedo was charged with “Identity Fraud,” which may be related to efforts by the Russians indicted on Friday to use American identities while engaging in their work on the 2016 Presidential election. It wasn’t exactly clear how Pinedo fits in, though it seems that he is the first American to be charged with directly helping the Russian operation to influence the 2016 campaign – but there is no evidence presented that he knew that was happening. Documents show Pinedo could face up to 15 years in prison.

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U.S. may put tarriffs on China, other steel-producing countries

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 4:26 PM
Updated: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 4:26 PM


            Workers at the Hangzhou Iron and Steel Group plant, a vast labyrinth of blast furnaces, warehouses, chimneys and worker dormitories covering hundreds of acres, in Hangzhou, China, April 11, 2017. China’s vast steel industry is a major target of President Donald Trump’s move to rethink American trade, but taming China’s mills can be expensive and difficult. (Giulia Marchi/The New York Times)
            GIULIA MARCHI
Workers at the Hangzhou Iron and Steel Group plant, a vast labyrinth of blast furnaces, warehouses, chimneys and worker dormitories covering hundreds of acres, in Hangzhou, China, April 11, 2017. China’s vast steel industry is a major target of President Donald Trump’s move to rethink American trade, but taming China’s mills can be expensive and difficult. (Giulia Marchi/The New York Times)(GIULIA MARCHI)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday urged President Donald Trump to impose steep tariffs on China and other steel-producing countries, contending they are illegally dumping steel into U.S. markets.

In a 262-page report that was praised by many Ohio lawmakers, Ross charged that imported steel products are priced “substantially lower” than steel produced in the United States and declared that the United States is now the largest importer of steel in the world.

Ross urged the White House either to impose tariffs as high as 53 percent on China, Russia, South Korea and nine other steel producing countries or levy a 24-percent tariff on imported steel from any country.

RELATED: China criticizes U.S. steel anti-dumping measures

“Excessive steel imports have adversely impacted the steel industry,” Ross wrote, adding that “numerous U.S. steel mill closures, a substantial decline in employment, lost domestic sales and market share, and marginal annual net income for U.S.-based steel companies illustrate the decline of the U.S. steel industry.”

The administration launched an investigation into steel dumping last year and Trump has 90 days to levy the tariffs. But new tariffs will harm consumers because they would pay higher prices for products which use steel, such as cars and trucks.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, praised Ross’s report, but said “Ohio steelworkers don’t need a report to tell them they are losing jobs to Chinese cheating.”

“More important than releasing the findings of this report is taking swift and tough action that provides real, long-lasting relief for our steel industry, which is facing an onslaught of imports as we wait for a decision,” Brown said.

Emily Benavides, a spokesman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Portman “looks forward to reviewing the Commerce Department’s recommendations.”

RELATED: Trump considering ‘all options’ on steel

“He believes we should work together to protect American jobs and hold our trading partners accountable when they cheat,” she said. “And he continues to believe the administration should move quickly to make a final decision on this investigation.”

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Mueller investigation charges 13 Russians in investigation over 2016 election interference

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 8:27 AM

The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday that thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian groups had been charged with violating U.S. criminal laws for interfering with the 2016 election, detailing a string of efforts to help President Donald Trump’s campaign, and sew doubt about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment alleged, detailing efforts to buy political ads on social media.

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. earlier today, charged that the group first went after multiple candidates for President, and then fine tuned their message.

“Defendants’ operation included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

In a highly detailed 37 page indictment, the Special Counsel’s office described a series of efforts to organize rallies to help Mr. Trump in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York.




At one point, the indictment alleges that Russians posing as Americans, communicated directly with Trump Campaign staff officials about organizing efforts in Florida.

There was no evidence presented in the indictment that campaign officials knew they were getting help from a Russian group.



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President Trump to visit Florida school shooting area today

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 10:45 AM

President Donald Trump (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump says he leaves for Florida Friday to “meet with some of the bravest people.”

Trump’s tweet did not elaborate on his plans. But White House officials are working to arrange a visit to Florida in the wake of this week’s deadly school shooting.

FATHER SPEAKS OUT: ‘I don’t know what to do next’

Trump writes that he’ll meet with “people whose lives have been totally shattered.” At least 17 died when a former student opened fire at the school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday.

The president also says he’s “working with Congress on many fronts.” But Trump has not addressed the idea of new gun control measures. He has focused on treatment of mental illness.

Trump was already set to leave Friday for a weekend at his Palm Beach resort.

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