President Trump refuses to release Democratic memo on Russia probe

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 3:33 PM

A week after giving the green light to a memo written by Republicans in Congress which raised questions about the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, President Donald Trump on Friday refused to release a rebuttal memo from Democrats, raising questions about details in the document.

“Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th memorandum, because the Memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time,” wrote White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

“The hypocrisy is on full display,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “What does the President have to hide?”

The letter said that Democrats could try to rewrite the memo, and go through the same submission process, which includes a vote of the House Intelligence Committee, and then a review by the White House.

Democrats were not pleased with the decision.

“Refusal to release Democratic response to Nunes Memo – evidence of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump happening in real time,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

“Americans deserve the truth and this only raises more red flags,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

One House Republican said the President had made the wrong move.

“I’ve read both memos. Neither one endangers national security,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “The American people deserve the opportunity to read both memos.”

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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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Kasich, other governors announce health care reform plan

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 12:06 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 12:06 PM


            WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Gov. John Kasich (R) (R-OH) speaks as Gov. John Hickenlooper (L) (D-CO) listens during a press conference February 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three governors unveiled a blueprint for improved health care in the U.S. during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
            Win McNamee
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Gov. John Kasich (R) (R-OH) speaks as Gov. John Hickenlooper (L) (D-CO) listens during a press conference February 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three governors unveiled a blueprint for improved health care in the U.S. during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)(Win McNamee)

The national conversation may be centered on guns and immigration, but on Friday, a bipartisan group of governors that includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich tried to focus the nation’s attention, once again, on health care.

The group, which also includes Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and independent Bill Walker of Alaska, in D.C. for a meeting of the National Governors Association, released a six–page blueprint for improving the nation’s health care a document that a Kasich aide described as the best of the ideas that Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon.

RELATED: Governors push health care compromise

They argue that while much of the nation has argued about coverage, they’ve avoided a very crucial conversation about cost. Increased flexibility and reforms that drive the cost down, they say, will have to be implemented in order to avoid either a single-payer system or a two-tiered system in which the wealthy get great benefits and the poor scrape by.

“We cannot afford to lose sight of” the urgency around health care,” said Hickenlooper.

Added Kasich, “We’re all looking for ways to do what: Continue to provide great health care but at lower prices.”

The plan released includes guiding principles that have often been repeated during the health care debate: provide flexibility, encourage innovation, improve the regulatory environment, for example, but includes no legislative language, nor specificity on costs. Instead, it seems to be a “reboot” of a prior conversation, an attempt to steer the nation’s attention back to health care.

Among the steps the governors call for is to restore the cost sharing reduction payments that are given to insurers in order to keep premiums low; encourage consumers to sign up for coverage; and ensuring that Americans contribute “to their health care consistent with their financial capacity.”

“Please get going,” Kasich said at one point, appearing to address lawmakers whose efforts to reform health care have stalled. “Because if you don’t, a lot of your people are going to get the shaft and not the kind of health care that they ought to have.”

One thing the governors appeared to endorse was the idea of being able to tailor Medicaid coverage to their states. Ohio has an aging population, while Colorado’s is younger. Alaska, whose governor Bill Walker also attended the press conference, has tribal issues that might necessitate different requirements than Ohio’s population, for example.

RELATED: Liberal policy group unveils coverage for all plan

For his part, Kasich appeared to put an additional onus on businesses, saying they’ll need to help drive the debate by convincing insurance companies to give them a better deal for coverage.

“It has to be the businesses in this country who say they’ve had enough, and frankly, maybe they do, but I don’t think enough,” he said, adding that “great quality at a lower price…has to be demanded by the private sector in America.”

Kasich said he supported a requirement that some Medicaid recipients work, acknowledging “a sense out there” that some receive the federal benefits while others work hard and receive less. “Work requirements are fine with me,” he said. “It just has to be thought of in a way that’s going to work and be practical.” And Hickenlooper said he’s not opposed as long as the government considers those who aren’t healthy enough to work or those who are healthy, but must take care of a child or an elderly family member.

Friday morning’s press conference is one of a series of events that Kasich has scheduled for his time in Washington. He’ll also attend an event by the fiscally conservative Concord Coalition later today and attend a reception with fellow governors late Friday afternoon.

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