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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Trump can't block people on Twitter, judge rules

Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 1:59 PM

President Trump And Twitter

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump can’t block people from his Twitter feed because doing so would violate their First Amendment rights, according to multiple reports.

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The ruling was issued by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in response to a lawsuit filed in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and others, Reuters reported.

The president has more than 52 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. He has frequently used the platform to interact with the public both before and during his presidency.

Buchwald ruled Wednesday that Trump’s account constitutes a public forum “and blocking people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constitutes viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment, The Hill reported.

Trump argued that blocking people from his account did not violate the Constitution because of his own First Amendment rights, according to The Hill.

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U.S. Senate votes to expand health care options for veterans

Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 5:00 PM

Senate votes to expand health care options for veterans. Photo by Mark Wilson
Senate votes to expand health care options for veterans. Photo by Mark Wilson

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a VA Health bill Wednesday that would expand the private health care options for veterans, extending and streamlining the current VA Choice program and providing $5.2 billion for that program.

WASHINGTON INSIDER: Congress sends VA health bill to President Trump

Both Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman voted for the bill, which embraces increased flexibility, allowing veterans to seek private provider options if VA centers within 40 miles cannot meet the necessary care requirements The current VA bill — which increased flexibility in part as a reaction to reports of long waiting lists for services at VA health centers — expires May 31. The bill, which passed the Senate 92-5, now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

RELATED: New Dayton VA director wants to be transparent

Critics of the bill — including a group of 17 labor organizations, some representing federal workers — criticized the bill by arguing it would “outsource primary care to the private sector” - but Brown, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the bill was “a good bill for veterans.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against a House version of the bill, saying it “opened the door to privatization.”

But Brown, D-Ohio, appeared to dispute that notion, saying during a press call Wednesday that he would oppose any effort to privatize the VA.

“I think we need to be very cautious because there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of interests, especially the Koch brothers, who just love privatization,” Brown said, adding, “I wouldn’t have written the bill exactly this way, but Republicans are in the majority.”

Portman, R-Ohio, meanwhile, said the bill helped open up more options for veterans seeking care. He said he’s talked to veterans who are barred from seeing certain specialists because they live within 40 miles of a VA facility. “This removes that sort of arbitrary distance and helps them be able to get the care they need,” he said. He said he was also satisfied with how the bill addresses opioids, ensuring that the VA does not give veterans more opioids than they need and thus discouraging addiction.

David Blom, president and chief executive of OhioHealth, was on the Congressional Commission on Care that, in 2016, issued a report on veterans’ health care with 18 recommendations, some of which are contained in the bill. He said the bill helps smooth out some friction points that exist between the VA healthcare system and the health-care system at large and will lead to expanded options for veterans.

RELATED: Dayton VA director will be first woman in its 150-year history

“The barrier used to be so high … that patients suffered, the veteran suffered,” he said. “And the bill that is before us makes it easier for the veteran to access community health care.”

Also of significance is that the bill allows access to community doctors for veterans who live in areas where VA centers perform poorly, said Lt. Gen. Martin Steele, who served on the commission with Blom and spoke to veterans at an OhioHealth event last year. A report published in April in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that, while the VA performed on average the same as or significantly better than non-VA hospitals in most areas, there was a great deal of performance variation across VA facilities.

“We owe it to this cohort of people who selflessly served this country,” said Steele, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corp after more than 34 years of service and lives in Florida. “We’re trying to do something to ensure they’re receiving proper medical care, as they well deserve, for the rest of their lives.”

According to the U.S. Census, some 21 million Americans are veterans. Nearly 865,000 live in Ohio. Steele said about 6 million veterans regularly use VA health services.

Blom said he’s also optimistic about ongoing changes that will make the VA’s electronic medical record system compatible with those used by most hospitals. He’d next like to see leaders address issues around supply chain, racial disparities, eligibility rules and workforce promotions and discipline.

Also needed, Steele said, are mandatory workforce development rules that would ensure adequate leadership succession and more consistent performance across the system.

Still, both men are pleased to see action on the bill.

“It is positive progress in fixing a system that is in dire need of fixing,” Blom said. “It won’t all be fixed through this bill, but it’s a good first step.”

The bill passed the House last week 347-70, with all Ohio House members supporting it.

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Congress sends Trump new plan to expand private care options for veterans

Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 5:22 PM

Still searching for answers on how best to help veterans frustrated by their options within the VA health system, the Senate sent President Donald Trump a bill on Wednesday which allow vets more options to use private medical care if they face lengthy delays or a lack of certain medical services at VA health centers around the nation.

“The Senate passage of the VA MISSION Act is a major victory for our nation’s veterans who will benefit from more choice and fewer barriers to care,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who chairs the Senate Veterans Committee.

It’s not the first time that Congress has tried to help vets use medical resources outside of the VA for health care, as lawmakers continue to hear stories of vets who have been unable to get care near their homes, or have been forced to endure long waits for specialized appointments.

“This is a transformational piece of legislation that will improve the lives of veterans for generations to come, and I am thrilled this bill will soon be law,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the chair of the House Veterans Committee.

“This bill puts the needs of veterans first by giving them the option of seeking care when and where it makes the most sense for their needs,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

The 230 page bill was named after Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the late Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and retiring Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX).

The measure was easily approved by the House earlier this month on a vote of 347-70. The Senate vote on Wednesday was 92-5.

The 230 page bill has a wide reach within the VA, doing much more than just allowing veterans more access to care outside the VA health care system.

While a number of veterans groups supported the plan, there were some critics in the Congress, who charged this was just a step on the road to privatization of the VA system.

The plan authorizes $51 billion for the growing “Choice” program in the VA on outside medical care.

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Jared Kushner gets permanent security clearance: reports

Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 4:04 PM

Who is Jared Kushner

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has gotten a permanent security clearance months after he lost access to top secret documents because of his failure to pass an extensive FBI background check, according to multiple reports.

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The background check was completed after more than a year, allowing Kushner to get his permanent clearance, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing an unidentified source.

White House officials have said that it’s not unusual for background checks to take so long for officials with complicated financial histories or with the sprawling foreign connections that Kushner has, The New York Times reported. Trump was not involved in the process to clear his son-in-law, according to the newspaper.

>> Report: Jared Kushner’s security clearance downgraded

“As we stated before, his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process,” Kushner’s personal attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement obtained by the Post. “Having completed all of these processes, he’s looking forward to continuing to do the work the president has asked him to do.”

Lowell said his client has been cooperating with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He told the Times that Kushner has met twice with Mueller’s investigators with both meetings running for several hours.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

“In each occasion, he answered all questions asked and did whatever he could to expedite the conclusion of the investigations,” Lowell said.

Kushner and several other White House officials in February had their temporary security clearances downgraded after reports surfaced that a number of staffers had regular access to top secret U.S. documents despite only having interim clearances.

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