Who's Dina Powell? A rising Trump national security figure

Published: Thursday, April 13, 2017 @ 1:22 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017 @ 1:21 PM

            In this photo take April 5, 2017, White House Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives Dina Powell, followed by Ivanka Trump, leave news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. In a White House split between outsider ideologues and more traditional operators, Powell is viewed as a steady force in the growing influence of the latter. A newer addition to the team, her West Wing experience, conservative background and policy chops have won over Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. Now, as the president turns his attention to international affairs, attempting to craft a foreign policy out of a self-described “flexible” approach to the world, Powell is at the table. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The photo from inside Donald Trump's makeshift situation room at Mar-a-Lago affirmed what White House insiders have recognized for some time — that Dina Powell has quietly established herself as a White House power.

Though sandwiched between other administration officials, the deputy national security adviser for strategy stands out as the only woman among 13 staffers in the room on the night the president ordered the missile attack in Syria.

And in a White House that is split between outsider ideologues and more traditional operators, Powell is viewed as a steady force in the growing influence of the latter. Her West Wing experience, conservative background and policy chops have won over Trump's daughter and son-in-law. Now, Powell is at the table as the president turns more of his attention to international affairs, attempting to craft a foreign policy out of a self-described "flexible" approach to the world.

"No one should ever underestimate Dina Powell." says Brian Gunderson, a former State Department chief of staff. He hired her to work in former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's office early in her career and later worked with her in George W. Bush's White House.

Powell, 43, declined comment for this story.

She is a rare Bush veteran in a White House that has largely shunned its Republican predecessor's legacy. She came via Goldman Sachs — decidedly not a rarity for the new president — originally to work on economic development at the behest of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. An Egyptian-American with international experience and fluency in Arabic, she was soon moved to the National Security Council, though she retains her economic title.

Powell's ties to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who recruited her, and to economic adviser Gary Cohn, a fellow Goldman alumnus, mean she has been labeled by some as part of a more moderate group at the White House. But GOP leaders describe her as a longtime conservative thinker.

She has quickly earned the respect of the president, who said in a statement to The Associated Press: "Dina is an extremely intelligent and competent member of my team. She is highly respected and a great person."

National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said he recruited Powell "because of her exceptional expertise and leadership skills, to lead an effort to restore the strategic focus of the national security council. She has already accomplished this shift in a few weeks, establishing great relationships across our government and with key international allies."

Powell's foreign policy experience was forged under Condoleezza Rice, who brought her into the State Department when the Bush administration was trying to improve diplomacy in the Middle East.

Calling her a "member of my Middle East brain trust," the former secretary of state said that Powell knows the region well and "not just confined to Egypt." She added that Powell was "somebody who understood the limits of secularism in the Middle East but the dangers of fundamentalism. She brought sensitivities to those issues."

Still, Powell is plunging into a national security role at a fraught moment, as the United States ponders next steps with Syria, navigates complex relationships with North Korea, China and Russia and seeks to combat the rise of ISIS. All under a president, who campaigned on a platform of "America First" but whose foreign policy has proved unpredictable.

Tommy Vietor, who served as NSC spokesman under Barack Obama, said the administration is still struggling to present a coherent foreign policy.

"Does 'America First' mean we don't care anymore?" he asked. "They need to do a better job making clear people understand where they stand on many issues."

Powell was brought onto the national security team after a period of tumult.

Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn was asked to resign in February amid revelations that he misled senior administration officials about his Russian contacts. One of his deputies, K.T. McFarland — notably absent from the Florida photo — is expected to exit soon. She is in line to be U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

As deputy national security adviser for strategy, Powell is working to coordinate the various U.S. security-related agencies and advisers. According to a recent national security memo, she attends meetings of the National Security Council's Principals Committee and Deputies Committee. Those advisers briefed Trump with options last week after a chemical attack that the U.S. determined was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Born in Cairo, Powell moved to the United States with her family at the age of four and had to learn to speak English. She is a Coptic Christian, the faith that was targeted with bombings of two churches in Cairo on Palm Sunday.

Entering Republican politics at a young age, Powell put herself through the University of Texas by working in the state Legislature. After stints with several GOP congressional members and at the Republican National Committee, she joined George W. Bush's administration. There she became the youngest person to ever run a president's personnel office. Later she served Rice as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and as deputy undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

From the White House, Powell went to Goldman Sachs, where she worked for a decade, becoming a partner, looking after global investment and serving as president of the company foundation, overseeing an effort to invest in female entrepreneurs around the world.

Speculation is already underway about whether her current role could grow.

"She's already ascending in a big way," said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, who has known Powell for years. "My sense is she will continue to be someone to look for."


AP writer Vivian Salama contributed to this report.

Two-thirds of Americans think that the Democratic Party is out of touch with the country

Published: Sunday, April 23, 2017 @ 2:58 PM

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, greets supporters after speaking at a “Come Together and Fight Back” rally in Miami on Wednesday night, April 19, 2016. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

You might not be surprised if I were to tell you that a majority of Americans think that President Donald Trump is out of touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today. Sure, he won the election, but a plurality of voters opposed him, and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that he hasn't expanded his base of support significantly since then. You certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that there's a broad partisan split on the question, as there is on nearly everything in politics these days.

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Only 1 in 10 of those who voted for Trump in November think he's out of touch - but 90 percent of Hillary Clinton voters do. Partisan views are slightly more moderate, with 20 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats holding that position.

When it comes to the Republican Party, the numbers are a bit worse. Sixty-two percent of Americans, and 30 percent of Republicans themselves, think that the GOP is out of touch with the concerns of most people in the United States.

But none of this means that Democrats are seen as echoing the concerns of the common man. In fact, the Democratic Party is viewed as more out of touch than either Trump or the party's political opponents. Two-thirds of Americans think the Democrats are out of touch - including nearly half of Democrats themselves.

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It's worth highlighting that last point. While the political opposition generally views Trump or either party as about equally out of touch - with about 80 to 90 percent saying so - the Democratic Party is viewed as far more out of touch by Democrats than Trump or the GOP are by Republicans.

Last week, we noted that Trump's party is seen as more divided than the opposition, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the Republican Party is more divided than united, including 57 percent of Republicans. Most Democrats, by contrast, say their party is united.

How does that comport with the findings from the Post-ABC poll? It's tricky to determine, certainly, but one way may be that a large chunk of Democrats feel that their party is united in a vision ... that's at odds with the concerns of the American public. That would certainly align with the main tension in the party, between the vision of supporters of Bernie Sanders and that of Clinton backers - which was made manifest during last year's Democratic primary.

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Some portion of this, too, is probably a function of Clinton's loss in November (as is the shift in how people say they would have changed their vote). But it's clear that the Democratic Party is cognizant, to some extent, of the discontent at the grass roots. When Tom Perez, the newly elected leader of the party, headed out on a listening tour this month, he brought along a special guest: Sanders.


Lawmakers: Flynn likely broke the law; what is the emoluments clause?

Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 2:35 PM

(2016 Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn likely broke the law when he failed to disclose income he earned from Russia and Turkey, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee said Tuesday.

Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, along with ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, told reporters Tuesday Flynn failed to ask for permission to speak at a 2015 event in Russia or register to lobby on behalf of the government of Turkey. Flynn then failed to report the money he earned for the speaking engagement and lobbying efforts on his personal financial disclosure form when he applied to have his security clearance reinstated to work as national security adviser.

Flynn's consulting firm accepted $530,000 for work with a firm that is associated with Turkey's government. He received $45,000 for his speaking engagement in Russia.

The Associated Press reported Flynn’s lawyer filed paperwork with the Justice Department in February disclosing that he had done lobbying work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey” between August and November 2016. 

Flynn’s contract ended on Nov. 15, three days before he was appointed Trump’s national security adviser.

Chaffetz and Cummings said they had seen classified memos concerning Flynn’s activities. They also said they saw Flynn’s disclosure form.

“Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz told reporters.

“He was supposed to get permission, he was supposed to report it, and he didn’t,” Cummings said. 

Flynn was fired as national security adviser in February after he made misleading comments to Vice President Mike Pence about discussions he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

With Flynn's failure to obtain permission from military authorities for the payments and failure to disclose them, the retired general could have violated a constitutional ban on foreign payments to retired military officers.

“The law requires him to seek permission ... from the secretary of state and the Department of Defense,” Chaffetz said. “The response we’re getting is there is no information, and that, we believe, is the potential violation.”

The New York Times story says U.S. Army investigators have found no record that Flynn has "filed the required paperwork for the trip" to Russia in 2015, nor reported the income he received, as is required by the emoluments cause in the U.S. Constitution.

What is the emoluments clause and what does it say? Here’s a quick look.

What is an emolument?

An emolument – in its dictionary definition – is payment for work done or “gain from employment or position.”

So if it’s pay for a service, what’s wrong with that?

Nothing is wrong with it, as long as the “gain” or payment does not come from unauthorized work for a foreign government.

The title of nobility clause, Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution, addresses foreign emoluments, or money paid by a foreign government. The section reads: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” 

What constitutes a violation of the clause?

For a violation of the emoluments clause to have occurred the person must qualify as a U.S. officer and must have accepted an emolument from a foreign government. Flynn would fall under the “U.S. officer” portion of the clause since he is a retired U.S. military officer that had the potential to be called back into active duty.

What happens if you are caught doing that? 

The foreign emoluments clause does not specify a penalty for its violation. Cummings has suggested in a letter to President Donald Trump that if Flynn violated the clause, then he owes the U.S. the amount of money he received from Russia and Turkey.

Flynn claims he received his fee from Russia Today, a state-owned television station, not the Russian government, thus he did not take pay from a foreign government. RT paid Leading Authorities, a private firm that arranges for speakers for events, according to the Yale Journal on Regulation.

House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz will not run for reelection

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 @ 1:33 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16:  U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) talks before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals testified before the committee about the restructuring of that court.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection next year, although he didn’t rule out a possible future run for office.

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“After long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018,” Chaffetz said in a Facebook post. “After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.”

Chaffetz has represented Utah’s 3rd congressional district since 2008 and has chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform since 2015.

“For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives,” he said. “I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be reelected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”

Thank you! Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Representative in the United States House of Representatives....

Posted by Jason Chaffetz on Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chaffetz’s district is among the most Republican in the country, and the lawmaker has won reelection with at least 70 percent of the vote four times in a row, Politico reported.

In the four presidential elections between 2000 and 2012, Republican candidates won the district by more than 65 percent of the vote. President Donald Trump won the district in 2016 with 47 percent of the vote. 

WATCH: Melania Trump seems to nudge president during national anthem at Easter Egg Roll

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 1:28 AM

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump presented the first White House Easter Egg Roll of the new administration. Though the event kicked off without a hitch, there was a very brief moment that caught some journalists’ eyes.

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As the national anthem played, the first lady lightly tapped the president to indicate that it was time to place his hand over his heart:

Some openly mocked the president after: