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Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 11:57 AM

Who is Steven Bannon

Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

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>> Related: Steve Bannon to testify before House Intel Committee in Russia probe

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House poised to approve plan to loosen federal banking regulations

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 11:44 PM

With Republicans unable to muster the votes to repeal a major financial regulation law put in the place after the 2008 Wall Street Collapse, the House on Tuesday is expected to give final approval to a less sweeping plan already backed by the Senate, which would ease a series of financial rules and regulations on smaller banking institutions enacted under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

“The cycle of lending and job creation has been stifled by onerous regulation,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who shepherded the bill through the Senate with bipartisan support, and then prevailed on House Republicans to simply accept the plan, instead of trying to make changes which might have doomed the bill’s chances.

“I’m happy to say we’re in the final stages of making these bills law,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), as a House panel moved to set up Tuesday’s debate on the banking regulation changes.

Among the many provisions in the bill:

+ Banks with less than $250 billion in assets would no longer be subjected to federal “stress tests” – the current threshold is $50 billion.
+ Eases regulatory requirements on banks with less than $10 billion in assets (mainly known as ‘community banks’)
+ Loosens minimum standards on certain home mortgage loans, with a goal of allowing more small banks and credit unions to make such loans.
+ The plan steps up protections for veterans on predatory loans.
+ Active duty service members would get additional protections from foreclosures.
+ Consumers would be eligible in some cases for unlimited credit security freezes to deal with credit fraud alerts.

As in the debate earlier this year in the Senate, more liberal Democrats in the House have sternly argued against the bill, making the case that it takes away too many protections enacted in the original 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

“Defeating this legislation is important to preventing Wall Street from crashing our economy again,” said Rep. Pramila Jaypal (D-WA).

“We must not allow the GOP Congress to drag us back to the same lack of oversight that ignited the Great Recession,” wrote House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to their colleagues.

Consumer watchdog groups like Public Citizen have labeled the bill, the “Bank Lobbyist Act,” arguing it would increase chances for ‘another taxpayer bailout of reckless financial institutions.’

But while the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has objected, other Democrats heard the pleas of small community and regional banks, one reason the Senate voted 67-31 to approve the bill earlier this year.

“It is no coincidence that the bill’s Democratic sponsors come not from major financial hubs, but rural areas where small banks provide a disproportionate share of loans,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).

While the bill falls well short of the repeal of Dodd-Frank which had been sought by many Republicans, it is still a plus for the GOP, giving President Trump one more item to sign into law, one more bullet point to rattle off for supporters on achievements during his time in office.

“This bill will provide long overdue relief from the regulatory behemoth that is Dodd-Frank,” said Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-NE), as Republicans said the changes would spur new economic growth, by helping businesses gain access to new credit.

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White House agrees to review of DOJ actions in 2016 campaign

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 4:59 PM

A day after President Donald Trump demanded an investigation into how the FBI dealt with investigations during the 2016 campaign, the White House accepted a plan from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to expand an ongoing review of the probe into Russian interference in the elections, and how it touched on the Trump Campaign.

“Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” read a statement issued by the White House.

“It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested,” the statement added, referring to an ongoing battle between Republicans in Congress and the feds for documents about the Russia probe.

The outcome of the meeting between Mr. Trump, the Deputy Attorney General, the FBI Director, and the Director of National Intelligence – which was not listed on the President’s public schedule – was less explosive than what President Trump had seemingly threatened on Sunday, when he said he would demand a full investigation into whether the feds had “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

Mr. Trump and Congressional Republicans have been playing up the issue in recent days, arguing that initial FBI efforts to find out what Russia was doing with relation to the Trump Campaign, was actually an effort to undermine Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House.

But Democrats say what’s going on now is an effort by Mr. Trump and his allies in the Congress to undermine the current investigation, by allowing the President’s lawyers to see what evidence the Special Counsel’s office – and maybe U.S. Intelligence – had been able to gather during the 2016 campaign.

The Monday meeting at the White House came as Republicans stepped up demands for documents about the investigation, as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), asked the Justice Department for information on contacts between officials and former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who put together a controversial ‘dossier’ on the President, funded by Democratic sources.

In a letter to Rosenstein, Grassley zeroed in Monday on Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, and his contacts with Steele.

“Accordingly, please provide all records related to Mr. Ohr’s communications about these matters, including: (1) emails from Mr. Ohr’s personal and work accounts, (2) phone logs, (3) handwritten notes, and (4) text messages from personal and work accounts,” Grassley wrote in a letter.

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Local Congressman Jim Jordan could become one of most powerful D.C. players

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, speaking here to a group of business leaders in Urbana, founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers that at times has been able to influence legislation in Congress. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, speaking here to a group of business leaders in Urbana, founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers that at times has been able to influence legislation in Congress. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

With the 2018 midterm elections months away, experts are eyeing two scenarios for House Republicans: One: they lose the House majority. Two: They keep the majority, but it shrinks.

For U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the first scenario is a nightmare.

The second could make him one of the most powerful people in Washington.

Jordan, who saw his two endorsed GOP candidates for Ohio U.S House seats fall in the May 8 primary elections, nonetheless has not lost any political capital with their defeat. Most of the roughly three dozen members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which he founded, are in safe seats heading into November.

RELATED: Jordan considers run for speaker

Instead, it’s House GOP moderates who are more likely to lose their seats, meaning that even with the primary defeats of Melanie Leneghan and state Rep. Christina Hagan in Ohio, Jordan stands to gain ground next year, providing, of course, that House Republicans keep their majority.

That may not mean that Jordan becomes the next House speaker — an idea the Urbana Republican floated in the aftermath of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to retire at the end of this Congress. But it may mean having enough votes to be the deciding factor in what does and doesn’t pass the House.

That power was on display Friday when Jordan and the Freedom Caucus helped defeat a Republican farm bill over an immigration dispute.

Should the GOP hang onto the majority, said one Ohio Republican political strategist, Jordan “has a little more influence, absolutely. He can prevent us from getting to 218 (votes necessary to pass a bill) or he can help us to get 218. And we’ll need him every time we need to get to 218.”

RELATED: Military force in Syria should be on the table, Jordan says.

Odd math

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said there is a ceiling on Jordan’s power.

“I have a hard time seeing how Jordan will have the votes to be speaker,” Kondik said. “It’s not like he needed one Melanie Leneghan to do that. He probably needed 50 Melanie Leneghans.”

In the odd math of politics in Washington, however, ultraconservatives like Jordan gain when the party loses seats.

“The reality is the only time we really have power with Republicans is when it’s close,” said Tom Zawistowski, a tea party leader from Portage County in northeast Ohio. “The worst thing that happens is we hold all the state offices and a supermajority in the House and Senate because then they don’t need you, they don’t need your vote…you’re better off with 51 votes in the Senate, because if they have 60, they can tell (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul to go pound salt.”

RELATED: Jordan says Boehner is angry, bitter

Influential caucus

Jordan, a former wrestler elected to the House in 2006, founded the House Freedom Caucus in 2015. Since then, that caucus – which numbers only two or three dozen – has held an out-sized influence on the House Republican caucus, which often needs their votes in order to reach the 218 majority threshold.

Their lack of support for a GOP replacement bill to the 2010 health law known as Obamacare contributed to Ryan’s decision to pull the bill. More recently, the group was among those who voted against a mammoth spending bill. But they were also key in the passage of the 2017 tax overhaul, which Jordan calls one of the few legislative achievements of this Congress.

In 2015, the Freedom Caucus’ demands were one of the reasons then-Speaker John Boehner decided to resign. Boehner, in an October 2017 interview with Politico, called the group “anarchists” who “want total chaos.” He’s been quoted as calling Jordan a “legislative terrorist.”

Whether it is as speaker — Ryan has endorsed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for the speakership — or in some other capacity, Jordan’s focus is on pushing the agenda to the right.

“What we’re trying to do is impact policy in a way that we told voters we are going to do, in a way consistent with the mandate entrusted to us in 2016,” Jordan said.

RELATED: Turner urges EPA administrator to release chemical study

Divisive figure

The Republican speaker battle won’t take place if Democrats capture the House in November. But conservative groups are already touting Jordan for the post.

Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy for FreedomWorks, a tea party-affiliated organization, said his organization has received 25,000 signatures on a petition they’ve circulated calling for Jordan to run for speaker. He called Jordan “kind of a cult hero” to the group’s activists.

But others in the party see him as more of a divisive figure.

“With Jim Jordan, everyone has a strong opinion of him,” said one Ohio Republican political strategist who spoke on a condition of anonymity. “Nobody is ambivalent. Nobody doesn’t care. And the problem with that is there are 30 people who love him and a whole bunch of people who don’t like him.”

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Trump targets ex-Obama CIA chief in fresh attacks on Russia probe

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 8:28 AM

For a second straight day, President Trump used Twitter to go on the attack over the probe into links between Russian interference into the 2016 elections and his own campaign for President, this time targeting a former CIA Director in the Obama Administration, John Brennan, who publicly ridiculed the President and GOP leaders in Congress on Sunday, after Mr. Trump launched a Twitter barrage over the fairness of the Russia probe.

“John Brennan is panicking,” the President said of the former CIA chief. “He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.”

In his tweets, Mr. Trump placed Brennan at the center of a conspiracy to use the ‘Steele Dossier’ to start what the President says was a politically motivated investigation of the Trump Campaign.

“This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle,” the President wrote, quoting Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Florida and Maryland.

“This was a Political hit job,” the President wrote.

Mr. Trump’s tweets came just a few hours before he was going to the CIA to swear in the new Director of Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, who was confirmed to the post last Thursday by the U.S. Senate.

Ironically, Brennan has been a strong public supporter of Haspel, breaking with many Democrats, who had pressed for her rejection in the Senate.

Brennan, who was CIA Director during the second term of the Obama Administration, earned the ire of the President with a Sunday tweet that not only slammed the President, but as GOP leaders in Congress, accusing them of doing nothing in the face of an effort by Mr. Trump to interfere in a lawful investigation of Russian meddling in 2016.

Brennan has sniped at Mr. Trump on Twitter before, accusing him earlier this month of lying about the Iran nuclear deal, and arguing he has diminished the office of the President of the United States.

“Your hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Brennan tweeted in late April, when Mr. Trump accused former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of leaking the Steele Dossier to CNN and lying about it.

The tweets by the President on Monday morning did not rival his outburst on Sunday, in which he savaged the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and said he would demand a review of whether the investigation was political in nature.

Top Justice Department officials responded on Sunday evening by saying they would have the Inspector General review Mr. Trump’s claims.

It was not immediately clear if that move satisfied the President, who made this declaration Sunday afternoon on Twitter:

Democrats derided the President’s outburst on Twitter, again saying the Mueller investigation should be allowed to go forward without interference.

“Trump can wriggle and squirm and spew on Twitter all he wants, but in America the law will run its own course,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

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