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- 05/16/17--16:35: _Sen. Burr on Comey ...
- 05/16/17--17:52: _What lawmakers are ...
- 05/17/17--05:21: _Q&A: Would Trump re...
- 05/17/17--05:32: _Israel lauds U.S. s...
- 05/17/17--05:43: _Putin offers to giv...
- 05/17/17--06:00: _N.C. senator says ‘...
- 05/17/17--07:05: _WATCH: House Speake...
- 05/17/17--07:06: _WATCH LIVE: Democra...
- 05/17/17--07:18: _WATCH LIVE: Preside...
- 05/17/17--13:57: _Obstruction of just...
- 05/17/17--14:17: _Changing strategy, ...
- 05/17/17--15:07: _Former FBI head Rob...
- 05/17/17--15:18: _At D.C. conference,...
- 05/17/17--15:25: _How Israel is respo...
- 05/17/17--15:30: _What Robert Mueller...
- 05/17/17--15:35: _Sen. Sasse: America...
- 05/17/17--15:40: _Did President Trump...
- 05/17/17--15:44: _When it comes to Tr...
- 05/17/17--15:45: _News Wrap: Chelsea ...
- 05/17/17--15:50: _Justice Department ...
- 05/16/17--17:52: What lawmakers are saying about Comey’s memo
- 05/17/17--05:21: Q&A: Would Trump request to end Flynn probe have broken law?
- 05/17/17--05:32: Israel lauds U.S. security ties following Trump disclosures
- 05/17/17--05:43: Putin offers to give Congress notes of Trump’s meeting
- 05/17/17--06:00: N.C. senator says ‘I’m fine’ after race collapse
- 05/17/17--07:05: WATCH: House Speaker Paul Ryan holds press conference
- 05/17/17--07:06: WATCH LIVE: Democrats address Comey memo at press briefing
- 05/17/17--07:18: WATCH LIVE: President Trump to address Coast Guard graduates
- 05/17/17--13:57: Obstruction of justice, explained
- 05/17/17--14:17: Changing strategy, the White House goes mum on Comey memo
- The House oversight committee set a May 24 hearing on whether Trump interfered in the FBI probe, and invited Comey to testify.
- The Senate intelligence committee invited Comey to appear in both open and closed sessions. It also asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to give the committee any notes Comey might have made regarding discussions he had with White House or Justice Department officials about Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
- Top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to provide any Comey memos and asked the White House to turn over any audio recordings that might exist of conversations with the now-fired director. They expect to bring in Comey in to testify, as well.
- 05/17/17--15:30: What Robert Mueller brings to the Russia probe
- 05/17/17--15:40: Did President Trump’s reported actions obstruct justice?
- 05/17/17--15:44: When it comes to Trump, what do voters care about?
- Travel ban: The White House announced its initial travel ban order late on Friday, Jan. 27. A weekend of confusion, protests at airports and then court rulings followed. The president’s unfavorability rating started to climb.
- Russia and health care: On Monday, March 20, then-F.B.I. Director James Comey testified that the agency was in fact investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Five days later, Trump issued an ultimatum pushing for a vote on the House Republicans’ health care bill, which was soon pulled for lack of support. (Another version of that bill passed earlier this month). That week, the president’s approval margin began a slide that would continue for two weeks.
- Syria airstrike: Trump’s drop in approval ratings ended April 6, the same day he launched a military strike against Syria. The strike came after U.S. intelligence and others concluded the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians.
- Comey firing: The president’s numbers had been warming when he fired Comey on May 9. That has led — so far — to a significant drop in approval ratings.
- 05/17/17--15:45: News Wrap: Chelsea Manning released from prison
The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed back Tuesday night against a New York Times report that suggested President Donald Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to shut down an investigation into embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying “somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins and a small group of reporters that “the director of the FBI shared more information with Mr. Warner and myself than any director has ever shared.”
Listen to Burr’s comments to PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins.
“I think something as material as that, probably would have been something he would have shared, had it happened,” Burr said. “But, given that we were the last to meet with him before his departure, the last thing I think Director Comey was thinking about Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock when we met with him was that the next day he was going to get fired.”
The Times attributed the information to a memo created by Comey while still in charge of the agency, something it said he routinely did to document his conversations with Trump. An associate of Trump’s read parts of the memo to the Times on the phone.
The story came a day after a separate report from The Washington Post suggested Trump had shared highly-classified intelligence about ISIS with Russian officials during a White House meeting last week. The intelligence was given to the U.S. by an ally that had not given permission to share the information.
Trump defended his actions in a set of tweets Tuesday morning, saying he shared information for “humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer called unauthorized leaking of classified information “frankly dangerous” in a briefing with reporters later in the day.
Burr said the burden of proof, in this case, is on the New York Times. “If they’re reporting it, and they’ve got somebody who has got the document, they need to get the document and get it released.”
Meanwhile, House oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz tweeted he “is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.”
The post Sen. Burr on Comey memo: ‘Somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed outrage and concern Tuesday night after a New York Times report suggested the president had asked former FBI director James Comey to shut down an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The news comes a day after reports indicated President Donald Trump had revealed highly-classified information to two Russian officials visiting the White House last week, prompting concern about how the administration handled the intelligence and what the report would mean for the country’s relationship with allies. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the White House “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and order.”
Those calls were amplified on Tuesday in response to the Times story, based on a memo Comey created to detail his meeting with Trump the day after Flynn resigned. Comey created similar memos for every meeting and phone conversation he had with the president, the Times reported. The memo was read aloud to reporters by a Comey associate.
Here’s a look at the range of reactions to the news — and on what should happen next — from both sides of the aisle.
What Republicans said
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
“Somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) May 16, 2017
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)
American people deserve to hear all facts. Country must have answers. It is clear former FBI Director Comey should testify before Congress.
— Frank LoBiondo (@RepLoBiondo) May 16, 2017
Sen. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.)
— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) May 16, 2017
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
Director Comey should testify publicly before Congress as soon as possible. — L.L. https://t.co/C4jrYnYeei
— Rep. Leonard Lance (@RepLanceNJ7) May 16, 2017
House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)
.@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 16, 2017
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.)
Director Comey's public testimony before Congress is an absolute necessity. We must get to the bottom of all of these alegations forthwith.
— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) May 16, 2017
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
These serious allegations effect our nat'l security & they carry very real consequences. It's time for Comey to testify before Congress.
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) May 16, 2017
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
“The country is being tested in unprecedented ways,” Schumer said in remarks from the Senate floor. “I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching.”
Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
— Steny Hoyer (@WhipHoyer) May 16, 2017
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
Independent special prosecutor. Now. https://t.co/7wy0yt5agv
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) May 16, 2017
Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)
Trump is compromising our national security & tearing apart our democracy from within. Sign if you agree: https://t.co/NoG0Jgr06E
— John K. Delaney (@JohnKDelaneyJKD) May 16, 2017
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.)
I don't say this lightly: It is hard for me to see how this presidency doesn't end in impeachment & conviction. https://t.co/OLANX72MAz
— Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) May 16, 2017
Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
BREAKING (Leahy:) "Memos, tapes, testimony, appt of special prosecutor – all are needed ASAP to get to the bottom of this cascading crisis."
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) May 16, 2017
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Yesterday, secrets to the Russians. Today, obstruction of justice? When does this end? pic.twitter.com/HBCH8i8PAQ
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) May 16, 2017
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)
Latest Trump revelation is prima facie evidence of obstruction. Time for a Special Prosecutor is immediate and urgent.
— Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) May 16, 2017
Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.)
It never ends. President Trump’s conduct continues to be suspicious & outrageous. My statement: https://t.co/ITcIR5fDmU
— Albio Sires (@RepSires) May 16, 2017
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.)
— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) May 16, 2017
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
If true, this is another piece to the puzzle and it does not look good for the White House. https://t.co/wo2ZG8QsPi
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) May 16, 2017
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) May 16, 2017
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
We are well past the tipping point. When will the GOP put country over party? https://t.co/m9rLtBTDS2
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 16, 2017
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif)
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) May 16, 2017
Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass)
As frmr prosecutor, I believe an obstruction of justice investigation is warranted. Investigation should not be limited to Intel Committees.
— Bill Keating (@USRepKeating) May 16, 2017
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
As I have said before: Congress has subpoena power. Time to use it. https://t.co/I4cm8kYP5p
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) May 16, 2017
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.)
It is vital that Congress obtain these memos and hear public testimony from former Director Comey.
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) May 16, 2017
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.)
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) May 16, 2017
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
Huge concerns. We need an independent special prosecutor NOW. https://t.co/QL4zu7SVQq
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 16, 2017
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
Why has Trump been going to such lengths to stop this investigation? What's he covering up?
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) May 16, 2017
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) May 16, 2017
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) May 16, 2017
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Read my full statement below pic.twitter.com/WfBIAw1CXD
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) May 16, 2017
WASHINGTON — Some lawmakers are accusing President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice after revelations that FBI Director James Comey wrote a private account of the president asking him to shut down an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Congressional Democrats were already concerned that Trump was trying to stifle a probe into possible coordination between his campaign and Russia’s election meddling by firing Comey last week. The latest development only heightened their outrage, renewing calls for a special prosecutor. And Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement that “we are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time.”
But obstruction of justice is a tricky issue both criminally and politically. And legal experts say it could be difficult to prove the president crossed a line.
Some questions and answers about obstruction of justice:
WHAT IS OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE?
Simply put, it’s preventing authorities — such as police or prosecutors — from doing the work of investigating and applying the law.
WHAT IS TRUMP ACCUSED OF DOING?
Comey wrote that Trump asked him to end an investigation into Flynn during a February meeting in the Oval Office. Comey, who was known to keep a paper trail of sensitive meetings, chronicled the president’s request in a memo he produced soon after the conversation, according to a Comey associate who reviewed the document and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. Flynn had just been forced to resign after lying about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
The White House disputed the account of the Comey memo.
IS SUCH A REQUEST OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE?
Criminally speaking, obstructing justice applies to a variety of scenarios — like threatening a juror, retaliating against a witness, or impeding a grand jury proceeding — and Trump’s alleged request would not fit neatly into any of them, legal experts said.
“No one would write a federal statute with this situation in mind because it’s such an extraordinary situation,” said Jens David Ohlin, a dean at Cornell University Law School.
Meddling in a federal investigation could qualify as impeding a judicial proceeding under the obstruction statute. But to bring an obstruction charge, a prosecutor would have to show the president was trying to “corruptly” influence the investigation, and proving an improper intent can be hard.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said Trump would have some lines of defense.
“The president can claim he was raising an issue of concern for a longtime associate,” Turley said. “That doesn’t mean that the question was not wildly improper, and frankly, would border on the moronic.”
BUT ISN’T THERE EVIDENCE?
Comey’s memos could be valuable in any obstruction investigation.
“What you have is contemporaneous documentation of Comey’s recollection of what the president said,” said Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama. “That’s obviously a very powerful piece of evidence.”
But barring recordings, a memo still becomes a case of “he said, she said,” said former prosecutor Jonathan Lopez.
Still, there’s also a witness: Comey.
“He’s around and the best evidence of what happened in that meeting would be to call him as a witness,” said Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
ARE THERE OTHER POSSIBLE ACTIONS?
Even if this didn’t lead to a criminal conviction, such a request could add to the basis for impeachment for obstruction of justice.
“It’s the whole pattern here, it’s firing Comey and also directing him to end the investigation against Flynn, all of these things are done because he wants to stop an investigation from reaching the highest echelons of the administration and possibly him personally,” Ohlin said. “It’s the type of political self-dealing that is intolerable.”
But Turley said that may not be enough.
“What we have is a memo of a president asking highly inappropriate questions of an FBI director,” he said. “This would be pretty thin soup for even an impeachment proceeding.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Catherine Lucey and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
The post Q&A: Would Trump request to end Flynn probe have broken law? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JERUSALEM — Israeli officials on Wednesday sought to downplay any damage caused by President Donald Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials that was provided by Israel, and lauded the robust security cooperation with the United States just days before the president is due to arrive for a state visit.
Despite fears that the leak could endanger a valuable Israeli intelligence asset within the Islamic State group, officials stressed that nothing would change as a result of the extraordinary breach.
“The security relationship between Israel and our great ally the United States is deep, meaningful and unprecedented in its scope and contribution to our strength,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted. “That is how it has been and that is how it will continue to be.”
Israel has yet to acknowledge claims from U.S. officials that it was the source of the highly classified information about an Islamic State plot that Trump divulged to Russian diplomats.
Trump appears to have shared the information without Israel’s consent, which would mark a severe violation of the confidentiality of their intelligence-sharing agreement. Even more remarkable is that Trump chose to confide in representatives of an adversary, who could relay the information to its allies Iran and Syria, bitter enemies of Israel, and potentially find the source.
Trump is due to arrive in Israel next week as part of his first overseas trip as president. Israel has looked to Trump as a close ally but there has been growing apprehension over his unpredictability.
Trump has already walked back on some campaign promises that were favored by the Israeli government. He has expressed interest in brokering a peace deal with the Palestinians since becoming president, but it’s unclear what kind of demands he could make on Israel, if any, during his daylong visit next week. Conflicting comments from administration officials regarding Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Western Wall have only added to the concerns.
The intelligence breach is the latest drama leading up to the visit. American officials say Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The disclosure apparently came as Trump boasted about his access to classified intelligence.
Avi Dichter, a lawmaker in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a former head of the Shin Bet security service, said that even if what was reported was true it did not deliver a damaging blow.
“The current president has been serving for slightly over 100 days. This is not enough time to accumulate experience that is as bad as it is described by the media,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
“I am familiar with a few other cases over the years in other countries where they made use of materials — perhaps even in a more scandalous manner than was described by the media in this case.”
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said he had complete confidence in the American intelligence community. “Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States regarding the threats posed by Iran and its proxies and ISIS and its affiliates will continue and deepen,” he said, using an acronym for the IS group.
Shortly after the news broke Tuesday that the intelligence Trump shared came from Israel, Trump spoke by phone with Netanyahu. But Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes said the only topic discussed in the 20-minute conversation was Trump’s upcoming visit.
Amnon Sofrin, a former head of the Mossad spy agency’s intelligence directorate, said cooperation between the United States and Israel was so vast that this was unlikely to undermine it.
“It may cause small damage or a local one but not a disaster,” he said. “None of us in the intelligence community likes this event, but it can be put aside.”
Even with the calming messages, there were voices suggesting the affair could harm years of hard-earned trust.
In a newspaper column titled “Dangerous Amateurism,” Israeli intelligence expert Yossi Melman wrote that Trump presumably passed the information on “not out of malice, but simply due to his lack of understanding of the rules of the game.”
“If he did this with malicious intent, then that is a different story, which borders on treason and espionage,” he wrote in Maariv. “There is no doubt that officials in the U.S. intelligence community are also embarrassed by the president’s amateurism. But at this point what can they do?”
The post Israel lauds U.S. security ties following Trump disclosures appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Russia President Vladimir Putin offered Wednesday to turn over to Congress records of President Donald Trump’s discussions with Russian diplomats in which Trump is said to have disclosed classified information. His offer added a bizarre twist to the furor over Trump’s intelligence disclosures.
Putin’s remarks come as Washington was reeling over revelations late Tuesday that Trump personally appealed to FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau’s investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House issued a furious denial after Comey’s notes detailing Trump’s request.
The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information Trump gave to the Russians, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement. Trump himself said he had “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia. Yet U.S. allies and some members of Congress expressed concern bordering on alarm.
Putin told a news conference that he would be willing to turn over notes of Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats if the White House agreed. He dismissed outrage over Trump’s disclosures as U.S. politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment.”
Asked what he thinks of Trump presidency, Putin said it’s up to the American people to judge but his performance can only be rated “only when he’s allowed to work at full capacity,” implying that someone is hampering Trump’s efforts.
As for Comey, whom Trump fired last week, the FBI director wrote in a memo after a February meeting at the White House that the new president had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Flynn and his Russian contacts, said a person who had read the memo. The Flynn investigation was part of a broader probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.
Comey’s memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the president has tried to influence the investigation.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Comey and Trump. He said he would give the FBI a week and then “if we need a subpoena, we’ll do it.”
The panel’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a constant Trump critic, called the allegation of Trump pressure on Comey “explosive” and said “it appears like a textbook case of criminal obstruction of justice.”
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that the developments had reached “Watergate size and scale.”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply, “It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”
The person who described the Comey memo to the AP was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The existence of the memo was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.
The White House vigorously denied it all. “While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” a White House statement said.
Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.
The intensifying drama comes as Trump is set to embark Friday on his first foreign trip, which had been optimistically viewed by some aides as an opportunity to reset an administration floundering under an inexperienced president.
When Trump fired Comey, he said he did so based on Comey’s very public handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and how it affected his leadership of the FBI. But the White House has provided differing accounts of the firing. And lawmakers have alleged that the sudden ouster was an attempt to stifle the bureau’s investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia’s meddling in the campaign.
Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said he would ask Comey for additional material as part of that panel’s investigation. “Memos, transcripts, tapes — the list keeps getting longer,” he said.
According to the Times, Comey wrote in the February memo that Trump told him Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey said he replied that “I agree he is a good guy” but said nothing to Trump about limiting the investigation.
The newspaper said Comey was in the Oval Office that day with other national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When that ended, Trump asked everyone to leave except Comey, and he eventually turned the conversation to Flynn.
The administration spent the first half of Tuesday defending Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the president’s comments were “wholly appropriate.” He used that phrase nine times in his briefing to reporters.
The highly classified information about an Islamic State plot was collected by Israel, a crucial source of intelligence and close partner in the fight against some of the America’s fiercest threats in the Middle East. Trump’s disclosure of the information threatened to fray that partnership and piled pressure on the White House to explain the apparently on-the-spot decision to reveal the information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.
A U.S. official who confirmed the disclosure to The Associated Press said the revelation potentially put the source at risk.
Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Jill Colvin contributed.
The post Putin offers to give Congress notes of Trump’s meeting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina says he’s “fine” after collapsing during a Washington, D.C., race and being taken away by ambulance.
Tillis posted a video on Twitter from his hospital bed Wednesday morning saying he was OK.
In the video, Tillis says: “Hey everybody, I’m fine. Just running about 2 and a half miles in and got overheated, no CPR, no special measures, just checking me out. See you back on the Hill.”
Tillis, 56, was seen on the ground at about 15-20 minutes into the race, which started at 8 a.m. The three-mile race was being held in Anacostia Park in the southeast part of the city.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other GOP leaders hold a press conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. EDT.
The post WATCH: House Speaker Paul Ryan holds press conference appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
House Democrats conduct a press conference at 10:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday about reports that President Donald Trump urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of one of his campaign aide’s connections to Russia. It came the day after the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying about his contacts with the Russians.
The post WATCH LIVE: Democrats address Comey memo at press briefing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Watch President Donald Trump give the Coast Guard commencement address at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
President Donald Trump will address graduates at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, on Wednesday morning. Each year, the president delivers the commencement address at one of the U.S. military service academies.
Mr. Trump’s last commencement speech was at Liberty University on May 13. (Read more about it here.)
The post WATCH LIVE: President Trump to address Coast Guard graduates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Did President Donald Trump commit obstruction of justice when he reportedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February to end the agency’s investigation into Michael Flynn?
The question became critical for the White House this week, after the New York Times and other news organizations reported Tuesday that Comey wrote a memo detailing this request by Mr. Trump. The White House has denied that Trump urged Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into Flynn, who resigned as national security adviser in February over his contacts with a Russian official.
Comey’s memo — coming on the heels of his dismissal May 9 — raised new concerns over whether Trump intended to thwart the FBI investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia. Democrats have ramped up calls for a special counsel or independent commission.
“At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., said in a statement Tuesday. “At worst, he has obstructed justice.”
But proving obstruction of justice is difficult. Different sets of criteria are used to determine whether a president’s alleged obstruction of justice is a federal criminal offense, and whether it’s an impeachable offense. Here’s a guide to the issue:
Obstruction of justice under federal statute
There are a number of relevant federal statutes, all under Title 18 of the United States Code, that Trump could have possibly violated. An obstruction of justice charge would need to meet three key requirements under the law, Joshua Matz, an attorney and constitutional law expert, wrote in an email: “1) there must have been a pending federal investigation or proceeding; 2) the defendant must have known about it; and 3) the defendant must have corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the investigation or proceeding.”
Was Trump acting corruptly?
That’s a tricky question to answer. Proving that Trump acted corruptly with the specific intent of impeding the FBI’s investigation isn’t easy, said Michael Gerhardt, the National Constitution Center’s scholar in residence.
“It’s hard to do generally as part of a criminal case, because you have to show bad intent beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“We can never know what [Trump] was actually thinking,” said Julie O’Sullivan, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.
But there are several ways a prosecutor could build a case, O’Sullivan said. Prosecutors could question Trump’s top aides, or call Trump before a grand jury. (You might remember that independent counsel Kenneth Starr called President Bill Clinton to testify before a grand jury during his probe into the Clinton White House). Prosecutors could also look at circumstantial evidence, such as Trump’s decision to fire Flynn and Comey and the timing of those dismissals, O’Sullivan said.
For example, Trump’s conversation with Comey, along with the fact that he fired Comey just days after the FBI director asked for more resources for his Russia probe, could look bad for Trump, O’Sullivan said.
“A good prosecutor could probably put together an incredible case,” O’Sullivan said. She added: “There’s enough to warrant an investigation.”
What stands in the way of a criminal case?
It’s unlikely the Department of Justice, led by Trump ally Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would rush to launch a federal case against the president. And some experts have argued that there’s still no damning evidence.
Media reports of Comey’s memo remain incomplete, leaving a lot of unknowns about what exactly was said in the meeting between him and Trump. In a letter to the FBI Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, demanded a copy of Comey’s memo.
With so many impediments to a federal charge, attention has turned to potential impeachment proceedings.
How would impeachment proceedings work?
Impeachment proceedings go through Congress. The House initiates, and requires a majority vote. The Senate tries the proceedings, and needs a two-thirds vote for conviction. “Obstruction of justice” has motivated past congressional attempts to impeach presidents: it was the first article of impeachment leveled against President Richard Nixon (before he resigned), and it was the third article of impeachment for Clinton.
But impeachment proceedings operate differently than federal court cases. “It depends on what the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the Senate believe is an impeachable offense,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s not a criminal trial, it’s a public trial of accountability.”
The Senate could consider broader questions of intent and purpose, not just the high legal bar of “corrupt” intent. While Trump’s habits and history would be on the table, the Senate could also choose to ignore his actions.
And of course, coloring all of this is the fact that impeachment proceedings are innately political. What Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, thinks about Trump’s guiltiness, for example, could differ widely from the views held by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
“The party composition of Congress is” important,” Gerhardt said. “The Republican control of the House and Senate [would likely] slow down the process.”
WASHINGTON — Rocked by days of damaging developments, President Donald Trump’s White House is looking ahead to the president’s upcoming foreign trip — and trying to get his plane in the air with as little additional turbulence as possible.
The White House has been notably mum since the latest bombshell news report came out Tuesday afternoon, alleging that Trump had personally appealed to FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau’s investigation into then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In a departure from past firestorms, top aides did not appear on television to rebut the claims, and Trump did not respond on Twitter. Instead the only comment came in the form of a brief written denial. The lone adviser to appear on TV afterward, Sebastian Gorka on Fox News’ Sean Hannity show, called it “dishonest news” and then spoke at length about the need to hunt down leakers.
And while the president has been talking with outside advisers about the need to make personnel changes in the White House, an administration official said any potential shake-ups are on hold as his top advisers take an all-hands approach to preparing for a trip that begins Friday and seeing that his jam-packed agenda goes as planned.
The quietude — for now — is no accident. Another administration official said the White House is trying a new lower-profile approach.
The official said aides are seeking to avoid a repeat of the critical coverage of White House statements in recent days. The credibility of the White House has come under attack, as aides have delivered false or misleading statements or aggressively argued points that the president later contradicted.
Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Asked about the memo and a shift in strategy on Air Force One Wednesday, press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly pointed to the statement, declining to elaborate. “The White House has put out a statement very clearly with our account,” he said.
For now, Trump seems to be sticking with the approach, accepting the advice of his aides and fighting his instinct to punch back. In the past he has railed against his staff for failing to vigorously defend him and flood television stations with supportive voices.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that President Trump in February urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of one of his campaign aide’s connections to Russia, in a meeting a day after the president fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying about his contacts with Russians. John Yang learns more about the revelation from Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times.
During a graduation speech at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, Trump complained about media coverage, though he did not address the specific report or mention Comey by name. He said no president “has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
On Friday, Trump leaves on an ambitious five-stop trip through the Middle Eeast and Europe that many advisers see as an opportunity to reset after weeks of negative headlines.
Republicans outside the White House also hope the trip provides some breathing room from scandal.
“The problem is all of this stuff here at home is going to follow him overseas,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “My advice to him is just stay disciplined, stay focused and deliver on the world stage.”
He added, “He’s probably glad to leave town, and a lot of us are glad he’s leaving for a few days.”
AP writer Julie Bykowicz contributed from Washington.
The post Changing strategy, the White House goes mum on Comey memo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — Besieged from all sides, the Trump administration appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday evening as a special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into allegations Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign collaborated to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The appointment came as Democrats insisted ever more loudly that someone outside Trump’s Justice Department must handle the politically charged investigation. An increasing number of Republicans, too, have joined in calling for Congress to dig deeper, especially after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who had been leading the bureau’s probe.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump complained in a commencement address that “no politician in history” has been treated worse by his foes, even as exasperated fellow Republicans slowly joined the clamor for an significant investigation into whether he tried to quash the FBI’s probe.
Three congressional committees, all led by Republicans, confirmed they wanted to hear from Comey, whose notes about a February meeting with the president indicate Trump urged him to drop the bureau’s investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Congressional investigators are seeking Comey’s memos, as well as documents from the Justice Department related to the firing.
Many Democrats also were calling for an independent special counsel, or prosecutor.
Appointment of Special Counsel https://t.co/O3i7TWVDdO
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) May 17, 2017
After the announcement from the Justice Department, Trump reiterated in a statement that “there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity.”
“I look forward to this matter concluding quickly,” he added.
NEWS: Pres. Trump: "…there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly." pic.twitter.com/JuRa7qMzv7
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) May 17, 2017
The latest political storm, coupled with the still-potent fallout from Trump’s recent disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats, overshadowed all else in the capital and beyond. Stocks fell sharply on Wall Street as investors worried that the latest turmoil in Washington could hinder Trump’s pro-business agenda.
Republicans, frustrated by the president’s relentless parade of problems, largely sought to cool the heated climate with assurances they would get to the bottom of scandals.
“There’s clearly a lot of politics being played,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “Our job is to get the facts and to be sober about doing that.”
Unimpressed, Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on a key House oversight panel, said, “Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of Donald Trump. He accused the Republicans of taking great pains to “do as little as humanly possible, just to claim that they’re doing something.”
Interest was hardly limited to the U.S. No less a commentator than Russia’s Vladimir Putin called the dramatic charges swirling around Trump evidence of “political schizophrenia spreading in the U.S.” He offered to furnish a “record” of the Trump-diplomats meeting in the Oval Office if the White House desired it.
There was no word on what that record might entail, a question many were likely to raise in light of Trump’s recent warning to Comey that he had “better hope” there were no tapes of a discussion they’d had.
The White House disputed Comey’s account of the February conversation concerning Flynn, but did not offer specifics. Several members of Congress said that if Trump did suggest that Comey “let this go” regarding Flynn’s Russian contacts, it was probably just a joke, light banter.
White House aides mostly kept a rare low profile, avoiding going on television. Trump did not offer any commentary on Twitter and did not directly address the controversies during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy, though he delivered a broadside against the forces he sees as working against him.
“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he said. “You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. … I guess that’s why we won. Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down. … And the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face.”
Questions about Trump’s conduct have been mounting for weeks, most recently with two explosive revelations — that in February the president pressed Comey to drop a federal investigation into Flynn’s contacts with Russia and that he disclosed classified information to the senior Russian officials last week.’
Both allegations came from anonymous sources, and the White House was quick to denounce the leaks and deny any impropriety, insisting the president never tried to squelch the Flynn investigation nor did he make inappropriate disclosures to the Russians.
Putin, watching from afar, said the “evolving political struggle” had gone from something of an amusement to serious cause for concern, and he suggested Trump’s critics were stoking anti-Russian sentiment to damage the president.
“These people either don’t understand that they are hurting their own country, and in that case they are just dumb,” Putin said. “Or they do understand everything, and that means that they are dangerous and unscrupulous.”
On Capitol Hill, Comey was clearly the man in demand, with three committees working to seat him at their witness tables.
Trump is preparing to leave town Friday on his first foreign trip, and aides have been hopeful the journey will be a chance for the administration to get back on track after weeks of chaos and distractions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speculated Trump was probably happy to get out of town — “and a lot of us are glad he’s leaving for a few days.”
His advice to the president: “Stay disciplined, stay focused and deliver on the world stage.”
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Eileen Sullivan, Erica Werner, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. PBS NewsHour will update the story as it develops.
The post Former FBI head Robert Mueller will now oversee Russia investigation, DOJ says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
“Don’t settle for being pissed off,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told an energetic ballroom of his party’s donor base on Tuesday morning.
“Every day that we’re playing defense, we’re not making progress.”
Democratic and progressive leaders spent Tuesday outlining their vision for the future of the party and the country at the “Ideas Conference,” hosted by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. And like most conversations in Washington, the talk kept coming back to President Donald Trump.
“Trump promised to drain the swamp,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. said. “117 days in, and the swamp is bigger, deeper, uglier and filled with more corrupt creatures than ever before in history.”
Democratic stars like Sens. Warren, Cory Booker D-N.J., and Kristen Gillibrand D-N.Y. addressed the friendly crowd in this year’s annual conference And while speakers included North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the speaker lineup revealed a problem that Democrats face–losses over the past eight years have led to diminished power nearly everywhere but the coasts. Gov. Cooper was the only elected official south of Virginia. Only three speakers were from the Midwest– two, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison from the traditionally liberal Minnesota.
In addition to discussions on infrastructure, health care and voter ID laws, the latest news of the president leaking classified information to Russian officials loomed large.
Sen. Gillibrand said she will not vote for a new FBI director until there is a special prosecutor, before pivoting to an impassioned speech on the merits of her legislation on a national paid leave program.
In a conversation moderated by The New York Times’ David Sanger, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. criticized the President’s handling of classified material and his ad hoc approach to foreign affairs. Rep. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for both parties to reject foreign governments meddling in U.S. elections, no matter which party benefits from the weaponized information.
“The fundamental point is how we protect democracy in the future,” he said.
Sen. Warren, a favorite to run in 2020, was interrupted by frequent applause, as she spoke on income inequality and the role of money in politics, linking them to the Russia scandals that have plagued the Trump administration.
“Concentrated money and concentrated power [are] corrupting our democracy,” she said. “It’s becoming dangerously worse with Donald Trump in the White House.”
Freshman Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memo signaling the return of mandatory minimums and a revamped effort to fight the war on drugs. Harris, the former California Attorney General said the “war on drugs was an abject failure,” and called for the decriminalization of marijuana.
While unified in opposition to Trump, Democrats are still struggling to form a coherent message that appeases both the moderate and progressive wings of their party, whose fault lines were exposed in the 2016 primary. Progressive talking points like Sen. Warren comparing lobbyists to locusts and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., using the word “impeachment” in the same sentence as “Donald Trump” drew applause, but others were quick to note the vast hurdles that Democrats face in regaining electoral power.
“You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if you can’t win elections and get in office, then the ideas are worthless,” McAuliffe said.
The wide-ranging topics seemed to touch on everything but one–what exactly went wrong in 2016 that led to a Democratic electoral meltdown in national and state elections and Trump in the White House.
In his closing remarks, Sen. Booker took a more idealistic tone while pushing for progressive policies like universal healthcare.
“We have to be a nation and a people and a party that reignites that conviction that this will be the country of impossible dreams,” Booker said. “That is the essence of the American Dream.”
The post At D.C. conference, Democrats look towards 2020, but can’t get past Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JOHN YANG: Now to the continuing fallout from the reports that President Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russian diplomats that came from Israel.
William Brangham has that.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It was The New York Times that first reported yesterday that Israel was the source of that classified intelligence about ISIS that President Trump allegedly divulged to Russian diplomats.
If true, what are the ramifications, not only for the political relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but the close ties between the nations’ intelligence services?
For that, we turn to Ronen Bergman. He’s the intelligence correspondent for Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. His forthcoming book is called “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”
And he joins me now from Tel Aviv.
Ronen, may I first ask you, were you able to confirm that this intelligence that the president allegedly divulged was in fact from Israel, and, if so, what the reaction among Israeli intelligence has been?
RONEN BERGMAN, Yedioth Ahronoth: This is not yet finally confirmed.
There’s an investigation going on in Israel, trying to check which of the many, many items of intelligence that was delivered to the United States during the last three or four months regarding Syria, the activity of ISIS, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran, all closely guarded by Israel, which of these items were given by President Trump to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
As per the emotions or the reactions inside Israeli intelligence community, I would say they are ballistic. There are many people who are extremely upset. And one of them told me, this is sort of — this is a kick, violation in our sacred trust of each other, a blunt violation of everything the two countries agreed.
That person said that maybe the president has an authority, as he tweeted, to deliver U.S. intelligence, but he doesn’t have any authority to share Israeli intelligence and intelligence that was shared with these close circles of Americans, and just Americans, with anyone else.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump spoke with Netanyahu yesterday. Certainly, this must have been part of that conversation.
RONEN BERGMAN: Well, I don’t know what was said or not said during that conversation.
However, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered his staff not to react in any way to the recent scandals in the United States, including the leakage of information, Israeli intelligence to the Russians. And he’s — I think that Netanyahu is a bit intimidated of and afraid of President Trump.
And Mr. Netanyahu is doing whatever he can to play down this affair and not doing anything that could harm the president’s visit to Israel next week.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In your reporting, have you gotten any sense that Israeli intelligence is now trying to preserve or protect or somehow try to cover the intelligence that they have already shared with the United States because of this?
RONEN BERGMAN: Yes, indeed.
There is a risk assessment and damage assessment process going on as we speak. And the assumption, as in all intelligence scandals, is the worst-case scenario, meaning that much of the information is in jeopardy. Therefore, steps need to be taken to minimize the damage, save the lives sources and protect the SIGINT, the signal intelligence sources, as much as possible.
If, indeed, information that is in the hands of U.S. intelligence, U.S. National Security Council, U.S. president is not safe, that means that much of the secrets of Israel, some of them secrets that took years to — modus operandi, sources took years to develop, much, much resources, human lives, are at risk.
And one of the Israeli officials told me that he believes that there needs to be a reassessment of everything that was — that will be delivered to the U.S. from this point on, until it’s proven that the channel, this pipeline of information going from Israel to the United States, and vice versa, of course, is safe again and can be trusted 100 percent.
Nothing less than 100 percent is not secure.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Ronen Bergman, thank you very, very much for your time.
RONEN BERGMAN: Thank you. Have a good day.
The post How Israel is responding to reports Trump may have disclosed its sensitive intelligence to Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JOHN YANG: We return to our top story, the Justice Department appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee their investigation into coordination, possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
We’re joined now by phone by John Carlin. He served as chief of staff and senior counsel to Robert Mueller. He’s now an attorney in private practice specializing in cyber-security and crisis management.
Mr. Carlin, thanks for joining us.
Tell us a little bit about your former boss.
JOHN CARLIN, Former Assistant Attorney General for National Security: I can’t think of an American of higher integrity and experience.
This is someone legendary who prosecutors and agents in the field, who — a former Marine, spent a career as a prosecutor, has been nominated by presidents, including President Clinton, President Bush, and President Obama, for different positions, and, throughout his career, has earned respect on both sides of the aisle.
JOHN YANG: And do — talk about his independence. There was — you talked about being legendary. There’s — one of the legends about Robert Mueller is his threat to resign, ironically, with then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey facing down the Bush administration.
JOHN CARLIN: He’s someone who has a firm belief in what’s right and wrong and what the appropriate role of a government official should be.
I think he’s someone who looks to — epitomizes the idea that you should just follow the facts and the law, and has done so in all the different steps of his — of his career.
And, as you have referenced, he’s someone who, if something appears that it’s outside the law, he won’t do it, or, if it’s improper, he won’t do it. And it’s that type of firm backbone that earned the respect of so many people that have worked with him as FBI agents, worked with him as prosecutors, and observed him over the years.
He’s also highly unusual in this age. He’s someone who hates the — and avoids the limelight. And he’s managed to stay out of most news stories and keep an unbelievably low profile, when you consider what he’s done over his career.
JOHN YANG: Could you remind us of that episode? Recount for us that episode with the showdown with, I believe, as I recall, it was White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. They wanted to overrule a Justice Department finding regarding surveillance, as I recall.
JOHN CARLIN: Yes.
And according to public reporting about what occurred there, there was a surveillance program that the then attorney general — Attorney General Ashcroft was ill.
So, and Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey had assumed the role of acting attorney general. And based on the advice he received from lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel, he found that the program, as it was currently being run, wasn’t lawful, and so had to be shut down.
And he learned about a visit that was going to be made by members of the White House, including the White House counsel, to Attorney General Ashcroft in his hospital bed, and was concerned. And so he asked Director Mueller to accompany him to that hospital room.
Director Mueller did so. Attorney General Ashcroft said that, as acting attorney general, it would be Comey’s decision as to what was lawful or not lawful.
And I think Director Mueller, kind of consistent with his career, if the lawyers at the Justice Department say something is not lawful, then you can’t do it, until you work out a way that it’s within the confines of the law. No matter how important the program might be, the law is the law.
JOHN YANG: Ironically, the careers of James Comey and Robert Mueller once again intertwined.
John Carlin, thank you very much for joining us.
JOHN CARLIN: Thank you.
JOHN YANG: And now we turn to — continuing on this story, we turn to Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican of Illinois. He called today for a special counsel.
Representative Kinzinger, I presume your — well, what’s your reaction now to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER, R-Ill.: Well, I was surprised. I was surprised in a good way.
I think this is the right thing to do. The reason I called for it today, with the revelations of the supposed memo yesterday, the questions that have been arising, I just came to the realization — and I have always said from the beginning the American people deserve the facts, whatever they are, whoever they exonerate or whoever they indict.
The American people deserve that. And this had become way too political. Any new story, any new piece of information that had come out, you know, the left screams — some on the left mention impeachment right away. Some on the right would say it’s fake news. And neither is true.
So, we need to get to the bottom of it. We need answers, and we need them in a nonpartisan way. And my hope is, this is the beginning of the process of saying, let’s all tack a deep breath. Let’s aggressively find out the truth of everything and the facts, and then we can move ahead, and the American people can have faith again in the institutions of government.
JOHN YANG: Do you think this is going to turn the temperature down a little bit on the Hill, sort of the boiling controversy that’s been going on for the past really couple of weeks now?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: It’s hard to tell.
You know, truthfully, probably not a lot. You’re going to have now an outlet, I guess, for this. It’s — Congress can say — there will probably be these investigations continuing still in the Congress, but the majority of the focus will be with the special counsel’s office.
But this is a very hot-button issue. And any new revelation that comes out, people are angry or people are happy about what they see or whatever. So, you’re going to continue to see that dynamic, I think. I think this is going to continue to drive news cycles and drive stories.
But I think this is the right way to go for the American people, so they can say — you know, look, notoriously, have a very low faith in Congress to be able to do things in a nonpartisan way, because we’re a partisan body.
But to be able now to move forward and say we want to get to the bottom with a very honorable American like Mr. Mueller, I think, is a good step.
JOHN YANG: Is this any way an acknowledgment that the turmoil and sort of the back-and-forth that you saw with the House Intelligence Committee trying to investigate this, that they just could not handle this, that you had to turn to someone, an outsider like this?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Well, I think, ultimately, it’s handleable.
And whether it’s the House Intel or the Senate Intel Committee, they do this kind of stuff. They have access to the information. They go through the process. But there’s no doubt, a month or two ago, it got very heated, it got very personal. You can’t have that on the Intel Committee.
I don’t necessarily know who to throw stones at on that, but you can’t have that on the Intel Committee. What you need is a calm, rational investigation.
This, with this special counsel now, hopefully, we can get that. And, again, there will still be a lot of passion. Donald Trump is a very controversial president. People either love him or they don’t love him, and so you will continue to have that.
But I think now people can hopefully rest assured that the work is going to be done. But they need to understand, everybody needs to understand this is going to be a slow and deliberate process. I guess I’m hearing it’s almost 60 days to even get a special counsel up and running.
JOHN YANG: Let me talk you about the other controversies that have been around this week, the — not — this was topped obviously yesterday by the Comey memo.
But, before that, we had the allegations about President Trump giving Israeli intelligence, what’s reported to be Israeli intelligence, to the Russians. What do you think about that?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: So, I was disappointed.
So, I’m a military pilot. I still serve in the Guard and fly planes, and I have been in since basically after college. And we learned early that, when it comes to classified information — I have a military classification, as well as a congressional classification — you have to be very careful with that.
Now, the president does have the right to declassify information whenever he wants to. Theoretically, a president could take everything Edward Snowden stole and release that himself.
But it doesn’t make it wise. And so if you’re going to, especially with an adversary, talk about something that’s classified, you need to do two things.
Number one, talk to the folks that provided that information to you and make sure it’s OK, and, secondly, I think put that through the brain trust of your national security group, H.R. McMaster, everybody else, to say, hey, I want to reveal this to the Russians because it may help us in our fight with ISIS or whatever reason.
If we can go through that filter, I think it would have been very different. But it seems like — I wasn’t in the Oval Office — it seems like it was released willy-nilly. And I think that’s a very bad thing, very dangerous, and hopefully a lesson learned from all this.
JOHN YANG: How has all of this affected your confidence and trust in the president?
It’s a very early administration, and we have had all this turmoil, all these stories going on. Has this shaken your confidence at all?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Well, as I have always said, I think the policies — as a Republican, the policies coming out of this administration, the foreign policy, has been good. The strike on Syria was good, pushing back against North Korea.
The words are not. You know, the tweets, the early morning kind of Twitter rampage and some of these other things aren’t.
Does it shake my confidence? Look, I think that’s a pretty boisterous thing to say for a member of Congress to say whether or not their confidence is shaken. I have concerns. But I know he has a great team around him advising him, and I hope he takes that advice.
This is, again — hopefully, this special counsel is the beginning of bringing the temperature down a little bit. It will always be pretty hot, but, hopefully, we can see that.
JOHN YANG: Do you think — are you hopeful that you will and — you and your colleagues in the House will be able to focus more on the Republican agenda now than on the president’s tweets and other things?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Yes. I’m really hopeful. I have been hopeful for while that we can do that.
Look, we can walk — I hate to use the term, but we can walk and chew gum out here. So, we can have these controversies going on, but, still, today, we just voted on a bill passed unanimously for sanctions against Syria. We can continue to do that work.
But when you have all this basically dominating the news cycle, it doesn’t give us an opportunity to get our message out, whether it’s health care, tax reform. And, frankly, then the president of the United States is not out selling that agenda, too.
So, it takes away some key pieces to getting this done. So, hope springs eternal, and I have it now.
JOHN YANG: Adam Kinzinger, representative from Illinois, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Any time. Take care.
JOHN YANG: And now we are joined by Matt Zapotosky from The Washington Post to talk about this.
Matt, thanks for joining us. I think I probably butchered your last name. And I apologize.
JOHN YANG: Matt, this — as recently as yesterday, the White House was saying there was absolutely no need for a special counsel in this case.
From your reporting, what — what happened? How did this — what precipitated all of this?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, The Washington Post: I don’t know that the White House always knows what’s going on inside the Justice Department.
And, for days now, Rod Rosenstein, who is the deputy attorney general, had just seen his reputation battered over his role in the Comey case. You know, pressure had been increasing on both sides, Democrat and Republican, for the Justice Department to appoint an attorney general.
I’m sure conversations were going on that we’re still trying to report on between him and Bob Mueller, the former FBI director that they appointed to be special counsel. And those obviously came to fruition today, though it’s really late-breaking. We’re still trying to report out exactly what happened.
JOHN YANG: But do you think — we know there was reporting that Rod Rosenstein had — was unhappy that the dismissal of Comey was put on him, that the White House was putting it on him, and that he may have even threatened to resign.
Is this a way for him to try to sort of reclaim his reputation?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: I think somewhat, you know?
And, I mean, look, he maybe made some threats or said some things to express his unhappiness with the way this went down, but you can’t read his memo any other way than to see that he wanted Jim Comey gone. That was just a blistering critique of Jim Comey.
I do think he saw a lot of the blowback and reacted in some ways, and maybe that is what led to us where we are right now.
JOHN YANG: Let’s turn to this — the new development, Robert Mueller.
What — remind us who he is, his background, and what he brings to this.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: He’s a former FBI director who is very well-respected in Washington.
Just as I sat down, a former federal prosecutor I know was texting me saying, there just could not be a better pick. He has a reputation of fierce independence. I think he has some military experience in his background and, of course, led the FBI for a long time.
So, you know, and what he will do now is just take over this investigation, take over what Rod Rosenstein would have done. He could bring in his own team. He could use FBI agents. Maybe he knows some from his time in the bureau, but just a very well-respected guy in Washington.
JOHN YANG: Matt, you cover the Justice Department. What’s this done to the career prosecutors, the career officials, the career lawyers at Justice? What’s the morale been like, from what you can gather?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: I think there’s some frustration.
But, by and large, people are just putting their heads down and working. I mean, there’s a very small number of people, you know, a very tight circle, I guess I should say — I don’t know about small number — but on this Russia stuff.
And the other business of the Justice Department is going on. Certainly, I don’t think anybody likes the hit that it’s given to the Justice Department’s reputation, but these are career people who are going to come in and do their jobs every day.
JOHN YANG: And do you have any sense of where this investigation is, where it was before this announcement?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: I would say now it has probably slowed down.
I mean, Bob Mueller now has to come in, decide what he needs for a budget, decide who he’s going to keep on, and if he needs to bring in any new people. I don’t have a crystal-clear sense of exactly how far along they were. I think the FBI director — the former FBI director said that it had started in July, and that’s a pretty small amount of time for a counterintelligence case.
And now, you know, Bob Mueller is going to have to come in and wrap his arms around this and decide where to go from here.
JOHN YANG: The fact that it is a counterintelligence case and sort of the FBI and the Justice Department’s spy hunters, does that make it different? Or how does that make it different from a criminal investigation?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: Certainly, that adds sensitivities to this. You could be talking about clandestine sources and methods. You’re talking about FBI counterintelligence agents who have been involved in this.
This is just a little more sensitive than, say, a bank robbery, which is something the FBI also investigates. But, at the end of the day, that’s not to say it could not produce criminal charges.
Now, I’m not saying we’re there that — yet — excuse me. Even in making this announcement, Rod Rosenstein said, said explicitly, look, I am not saying this because I think we are ready for a prosecutor or this is ready for criminal charges. I’m just saying it’s in the public interest that someone outside the Justice Department oversee this thing.
JOHN YANG: So, we are probably still months away?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: I would guess, yes.
JOHN YANG: Matt Zapotosky, who covers the Justice Department for The Washington Post, thanks for joining us.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: Thank you.
JOHN YANG: And now we go back to Capitol Hill for a Democratic perspective this time, Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Schiff, thanks for joining us.
Your reaction to this news that the Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel in this case?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: Well, I think it’s a very positive step, and I applaud the choice of Bob Mueller. I think he’s very widely respected by people on both sides of the aisle, immensely bright, capable person.
And I think it’s the right call. This is not to say that there aren’t good career people at the Department of Justice that could do this. But, nonetheless, I think it will have that much more credibility in the public eye by appointing someone in the special counsel position that has that added degree of independence from the department, still not the full independence that you would have had under the old statute, independent counsel statute, but, nonetheless, I think a very solid decision.
And I think it ought to help inspire confidence in what the department is doing.
JOHN YANG: Now, how will this work with the investigations on the Hill? Will your committee investigation continue in parallel with Mr. Mueller’s?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Yes, absolutely.
And it’s very important, I think, for people to understand just what this means and what it doesn’t mean. The House and Senate investigations will continue to go forward. We have very important oversight responsibility. And, obviously, if we uncovered facts that we think that prosecutors ought to know about, we would refer that now to the special counsel.
In the sense that we may need to coordinate our activities, because we have parallel investigations running, we would now work with Mr. Mueller. So, none of this stops what’s going on in the House and Senate. Indeed, if we form an independent commission, that also is a completely separate mission than that by the special counsel.
The special counsel will be overseeing the FBI agents who are working the investigation, and the special counsel will be making decisions, if it comes to that, whether charges ought to be brought and against whom.
JOHN YANG: And what will your committee be asking for, with this disclosure that Mr. Comey appears to have kept contemporaneous memos of his conversations and dealings with the president throughout this?
Will you be seeking those documents? Will you be seeking testimony from Mr. Comey?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I think we will in Congress be seeking those documents. Indeed, many of the chairs have already asked for them.
I also think it will be important for Director Comey to come and testify once again, I hope in open session, so that we can add context to whatever is in these written memoranda. If there are tapes as well, as the president has threatened, we ought to obtain those.
Those, in fact, would be the very best evidence of the discussions that may have taken place along the lines of that New York Times report in which it’s alleged that the president asked Director Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn.
So, all of that work in Congress by the House Intelligence Committee, by the Senate Intelligence Committee and others will go forth. It’s just that the FBI investigation, the prosecutorial decisions will now be made by the special counsel, Bob Mueller.
JOHN YANG: And on that question of the tapes, the — is there going to be any investigation to determine if there are tapes to ask for?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, we do need to find out whether there are tapes.
And so I think we need to use whatever compulsion, if necessary, to find out. The president has obviously stopped talking about the tapes, and we don’t know whether that was a — simply a hollow threat he was making against Director Comey or in fact it’s backed up by the existence of tapes, but we do need to find out.
JOHN YANG: Where is this — can you give us an update on sort of where your investigation is, where the House committee’s investigation is, and where it’s likely to proceed in the immediate future?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, we are where you would expect a large investigation of this kind to begin. And that is with a review of an extraordinary number of documents.
A lot of them are intelligence assessments that underlie the intelligence community’s conclusion about Russian intervention, about the Russian motivations. Obviously, we’re also looking into the issues of collusions. Were U.S. persons involved associated with the Trump campaign?
We’re inviting witnesses to provide us documents. We’re inviting witnesses to come before the committee. We’re scheduling open and closed hearings. And we should have more to say about that in the near future.
But these are all the steps that we’re taking. And I think we’re working together very well in a nonpartisan way.
JOHN YANG: Representative Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you very much.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.
JOHN YANG: We turn our focus back to Capitol Hill.
Earlier this evening, I sat down with Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. We spoke before the Justice Department announced it was appointing Robert Mueller as a special counsel in this investigation of the ties between Russian and the Trump campaign.
We looked at how the Republican Party’s leadership is handling the fallout, and the senator’s new book, “The Vanishing American Adult.”
Senator Sasse is a Republican who has been vocal for some time about his opposition to Mr. Trump.
I began by asking for his response to the recent events.
SEN. BEN SASSE, R-Neb.: Well, there’s just a lot we don’t know, so let’s first be humble about how little we know.
But it’s very important that we, those of us who are called to be public servants for a time, are constantly thinking about, what can we do to rebuild, not further erode public trust?
We have the institutions of our democratic republic that have 9 percent, and 12 percent, and 15 percent approval rating, and that’s not sustainable.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is a really important institution, and we need to all want to shepherd it. We want it to be protected from political influence. We want it to not be a place that the American people think of as a partisan agency that they should doubt.
And so, very critical, when you have three branches of government, the executive branch is where you are going to have to put your investigative arm, the FBI, and your prosecutorial decision-making, the Department of Justice. But the American people need to have confidence that it’s insulated from political and partisan decision-making.
JOHN YANG: You have questioned — even in the campaign, you said you trusted neither candidate. You didn’t trust Mr. Trump. You didn’t trust Secretary Clinton.
As your colleagues have learned more, and as we have all learned more about President Trump, have you been satisfied with the way your colleagues, and especially the leadership, have reacted?
SEN. BEN SASSE: Well, I think both of these political parties are living on borrowed capital. And they’re exhausted. There aren’t clear visions that either party has right now.
I want to be clear, I’m the third or fourth most conservative guy in the Senate by voting record, but I’m not particularly partisan. We should be having a conversation between the two political parties, where they’re each trying to outdo each other in terms of having better ideas to persuade the American people about what a vision for 10 and 15 years and 20 years into the future should be for policy-making.
Instead, we constantly have a lesser of two evils conversation. And right now, both political parties tend to act like their main job is to explain yet why the other side is worse. That’s not good enough.
JOHN YANG: But is the discussion, the constant discussion of trying to explain or defend the president, is that getting in the way of not only the Republican agenda, but also this greater discussion that you talk about?
SEN. BEN SASSE: Yes.
I mean, we have a continuum that should be Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. progressive continuum about what policy-making the federal government should do. But most of our policy-making discussions are short-termist.
We should be having long-term discussions about a national security strategy for the age of cyber and jihad. We should be thinking about the portability of benefits in an era where average job duration for the next generation is going to get shorter and shorter for evermore. And that’s before artificial intelligence and machine learning is really disrupting it.
And those policy discussions should still be subordinate to an even larger civic conversation about, what does America mean? What is our shared narrative? How is the freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly the beating heart of the American experiment? We don’t talk about any of those things. We talk about the blood feud of Hatfields and McCoys almost every day.
JOHN YANG: Let me quickly bring you back to something a little more immediate.
The — one of your colleagues, Lisa Murkowski, said today it may be time to start thinking about an independent counsel in the Russia investigation involving the Trump campaign. Are you hearing that more? And what do you think about that idea?
SEN. BEN SASSE: So, I haven’t yet called for either a special prosecutor or an independent counsel, but I want to distinguish those terms and talk about why not.
So, first of all, independent counsel, or a criminal or an investigative thing that’s based on retrospective problems, that’s one potential pathway. We also — we usually use the word independent commission or 9/11-style commission usually to look at not just what’s happened retrospectively, but what do we need to do to be prepared for what Russia other and hostile foreign powers are going to do with cyber-attacks against us in 2018 and 2020?
I think, for the future-looking thing, we need to be doing lots more, because what comes next is far more compelling and dangerous attempts to interfere with America’s trust and Americans’ trust of each other. When the bot technology and the machine learning enables even more aggressive cyber-attacks in the future, it’s not going to be against one party or against the other. It’s going to be a war of all against all, where every American is supposed to doubt each other.
Putin is winning right now with these kinds of efforts. We have to be sure that we’re doing the prospective looking at how we’re going to be prepared for the cyber-attacks of the future. But I believe we also need to — and this is why I haven’t yet called for a special commission or a special investigator, though I’m open to those deliberations — I haven’t yet called for it because I want to see us restore trust in the institutions we currently have, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
We have to shore up these institutions. It’s not the case that you can just punt because of the current mistrust and say, well, if we have a special prosecutor, that will be a panacea and everyone will trust it.
If the special prosecutor — we don’t have a statute for it now, by the way. If we had to pass a new statute, usually, it would be some form of a three-judge panel. Well, if they appoint somebody, then two of them are going to have been Democratic nominees and one a Republican or two Republicans and a Democrat, and then people are going to dig into their history.
And we’re going to have distrust all the way down. We only have feet of clay. And the American people, we need to come back together and restore trust in some of our extant institutions and plan for the future.
JOHN YANG: Let’s turn to your book, make your publisher happy. We will talk about your book a little bit.
It’s called “The Vanishing American Adult.”
You write: “We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence. Our kids simply don’t know what an adult is anymore or how to become one.”
Talk about that.
SEN. BEN SASSE: Well, first of all, this book is a — “The Vanishing American Adult” is a constructive project. Two-thirds of it is about different habit-forming enterprises that we should be dedicating our 13- and our 15- and our 17-year-olds to.
It’s not a blame-laying book. But, if it were, it would be directed at the parents and at the grandparents, not at millennials today, because we haven’t done a good job of helping our kids understand that scar tissue is something to celebrate. Scar tissue is the foundation of future character.
And, right now, we have come to believe that one of the ways to serve our kids is to protect them from hardships and transformational coming-of-age moments and to protect them from work. That’s not what we want.
We want them to become free to find meaning in work and in service to their neighbor.
JOHN YANG: Senator Ben Sasse, the book is “The Vanishing American Adult.”
Thank you very much.
SEN. BEN SASSE: Good to be with you.
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JOHN YANG: The disclosure that President Trump allegedly asked Jim Comey to drop an FBI investigation has raised the question of whether this may constitute obstruction of justice. There’s plenty of disagreement.
To try to understand this, we are joined by Michael Waldman. He is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. He also worked for President Bill Clinton. And William Jeffress, he is a trial lawyer who has worked on criminal and civil cases at Baker Botts. One of his best known cases was defending Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mr. Jeffress, let me begin with you.
I’m sure you have heard the news that Bob Mueller, the former FBI director, has now been named special counsel in the case involving the possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s campaign.
What’s your reaction to that?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS, Baker Botts LLP: Excellent choice, highly qualified, very well-respected. Couldn’t have a better person.
JOHN YANG: Michael Waldman, how about you? What do you think of this?
MICHAEL WALDMAN, Brennan Center for Justice: It’s encouraging news. He is very well-respected.
Some of the questions include, what would be the scope of his brief and what is his level of independence? Presumably, President Trump isn’t going to ask him, as alleged, for his loyalty, but is he only going to look at the potential collusion during the campaign or at some of these broader issues that amount to, if true, abuse of power and obstruction of justice?
JOHN YANG: And, Mr. Jeffress, is his representation such that you think this should put to rest any questions about this investigation?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: I followed his career very closely, know him personally. It certainly puts to rest any question in my mind.
JOHN YANG: Let’s turn now to this question of obstruction of justice, and whether or not what the president has been doing constitutes it.
First of all, the legal definition under the law, obstruction of justice, Mr. Jeffress, what is it?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: It’s corruptly endeavoring to influence an official proceeding.
JOHN YANG: Corruptly. Corruptly, what does that mean?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: That’s the key word. It means for an improper purpose. It’s defined in the law.
And, you know, one could make a request of an FBI agent or, for that matter, the head of the FBI. If not done for an improper purpose, that wouldn’t be obstruction of justice. If done for an improper purpose, it would be.
JOHN YANG: Michael, anything you want to add to that or take away from that?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Well, I think that’s correct.
The fact that, legally, the president can, for example, fire the FBI director is true, but not if it was done for corrupt purposes. And, you know, I have a right to drive a car, but not to drive a getaway car.
And so that is the kind of fact-based question that prosecutors and juries have to look at and also that the court of public opinion needs to look at.
Mr. Mueller has a legal brief, but, ultimately, as your story showed earlier, Congress has a very significant role to play in looking at the broader set of questions, including this.
JOHN YANG: Then do you think what the president has done or alleged to have done with — with James Comey and his discussions with Mr. Comey, does that constitute obstruction of justice in your mind, Michael?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Again, assuming that the allegations are true, it raises very serious questions and comes close to the kind of obstruction of justice that has led to impeachment proceedings, for example, against Richard Nixon.
We know that he asked Mr. Comey for his loyalty. We know that, according to these news reports, he pulled him aside, told the attorney general to leave the room, and asked him — as his supervisor, asked him to drop the investigation of his national security adviser, and when he didn’t drop that investigation, actually asked to expand it, we know that he fired Mr. Comey, and then went on national television to say that the reason in his mind was — quote — the Trump-Russia thing.”
Those are all bits of evidence that suggest a very worrisome pattern that could in fact amount to obstruction of justice. It’s certainly an abuse of power and a risk, I would say, to the rule of law.
JOHN YANG: Mr. Jeffress what, do you think?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: Well, focusing on the conversation with Director Comey about General Flynn, based on what Mr. Trump has said, that he made that request because he thought General Flynn was a good man, and presumably suffered enough by being fired, that wouldn’t be a provable case of obstruction of justice.
But there are other hypotheticals. And there’s certainly reason to investigate. For example, if Mr. Trump knew that General Flynn had incriminating information on Mr. Trump having to do with the Russia investigation and made this request of Mr. Comey in order to keep Mr. Flynn — General Flynn quiet, that would be obstruction.
JOHN YANG: Because that would — that would satisfy the corruptly — acting corruptly?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: That would be an improper purpose, yes, to keep a witness quiet.
JOHN YANG: And, in this discussion, can a president, Mr. Jeffress, can a president be indicted?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: Not while he’s sitting. That seems to be settled. He can be impeached and could be indicted after being impeached if — once he’s removed from office.
JOHN YANG: And so, Michael, this becomes not — then that becomes a question of not so much a legal question of what the law says, but it becomes a political question, does it not, of what Congress says, what the House says in drafting a bill of indictment and what the Senate would say in whether to convict on that bill.
MICHAEL WALDMAN: I do think that’s exactly right.
You had, for example, during Watergate the grand jury then named President Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator, but the real action was during the impeachment proceedings.
I think impeachment is a pretty strong remedy. I would like to start by seeing meaningful and public congressional investigations, whether by a select committee or by a 9/11 Commission-style independent panel to look into the very things that Mr. Jeffress has discussed.
Remember, we’re looking at the actions by a hostile foreign power to undermine our democracy, potentially the collusion with one of the campaigns with that action, and now we see what looks like, if it is in fact the motives that seem to be in play, a corrupt effort to undermine that investigation.
In other words, even the best of prosecutors proceeds in secret and looks to see whether there’s a law broken or not. But the public has a reason to want to know the broader set of questions and patterns. So it really does come down to Congress, where there’s more running around, more action, but I would like to see some coordinated and meaningful oversight here.
JOHN YANG: But, Mr. Jeffress, I take it from what you said that you think this all really does depend, then, on whether Mr. Mueller is going to investigate about whether or not there is a real link with General Flynn and the Russians and whether President Trump knew about that. Is that right?
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: Certainly, he’s going to investigate what Mr. Flynn said to the FBI, what he said to Vice President Pence, what he — his actual conversation with the Russian ambassador, and what did President Trump know about all that or have to do with it?
JOHN YANG: William Jeffress, Michael Waldman, I’m sure we are going to be talking about this a lot in the future, but thanks for joining us.
WILLIAM JEFFRESS: You bet.
The post Did President Trump’s reported actions obstruct justice? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
We know that voters who supported President Donald Trump wanted a shake-up in Washington. So, nearly four months into his first term, how do they like what they’re seeing? And which recent headlines may have affected voters? Let’s turn to a simple go-to metric: approval rating.
Some stories that were massive in Washington did not seem to concern voters. For example, after his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned on Feb. 13 over his conversations with a Russian official, Mr. Trump’s approval rating remained steady for a week. But other stories did track with changes in his approval numbers.
An early conclusion: Voters seem most affected by unexpected events with concrete outcomes that are directly tied to the president. But a reminder: Trump’s approval ratings during the election were poor forecasts of how he would do at the polls, so you never know.
The post When it comes to Trump, what do voters care about? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JOHN YANG: Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill keeping up with these events that are fast-breaking, thank you very much, Lisa.
In the day’s other news: Wall Street had its worst day since September, amid investors worries that turmoil engulfing the president will block swift passage of his agenda. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 370 points to close back near 20600. The Nasdaq fell 158 points, and the S&P 500 dropped 43. The dollar also slipped again, wiping out all its gains since the election.
Max Wolff is watching all this for the investment firm 55 Capital.
MAX WOLFF, 55 Capital: A significant part of what’s produced the six-month market rally is the notion that we’re going to have radical deregulation, particularly, but not exclusively, around financial issues, and we’re going to have massive tax cuts, particularly, but not exclusively, for large companies.
The weaker the president is, the less likely you are to get those tax cuts, and some of those premiums start coming out of the market.
JOHN YANG: Investors sought refuge today in gold and the treasury market.
Army Private Chelsea Manning was released from prison today, after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for giving thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks. President Obama had granted her clemency. Manning posted a picture of her feet, captioned “First steps of freedom,” after leaving Fort Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. The transgender soldier was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning while in prison.
President Trump will hold off his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The Palestinians strongly oppose it, and now CNN, Reuters and others report that Mr. Trump has decided not to announce it when he’s in Israel next week. Reuters quotes a senior U.S. official as saying the president still does want to move the embassy from Tel Aviv sometime in the future.
Washington, D.C., police are pursuing charges in the violent attacks on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. It happened Tuesday evening as the Turkish president was in town. Twelve people were injured, and two were arrested. Witnesses say that President Erdogan’s security detail attacked demonstrators, as police tried to intervene.
The police chief said today that diplomatic immunity will not shield the Turkish president’s guards.
PETER NEWSHAM, Washington, D.C., Police Chief: That’s not something we will tolerate here in Washington, D.C. This is a city where people should be allowed to come and peacefully protest. We are going to pursue everything that’s within our legal power to hold the folks that were responsible accountable for their actions.
JOHN YANG: The State Department said today it’s communicating its concerns about the violence to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.
Arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants soared in the early months of the Trump administration. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that more than 41,000 people were arrested from January 22 to April 29. That’s up 40 percent over a year ago. At the same time, actual deportations fell 12 percent during the same period.
Crews in New Orleans removed another Confederate monument today. Workers used cranes to lift the statue of general P.G.T. Beauregard off its pedestal in the early morning hours. It was erected back in 1915. A statue of Robert E. Lee will be the last of four Confederate monuments to come down.
And a Texas teenager is the winner of this year’s National Geographic Bee. He’s 14-year-old Pranay Varada. He won the title in a sudden-death tiebreaker in Washington today. Varada wins a $50,000 scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
JOHN YANG: We begin with breaking news.
The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into any possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election.
For President Trump today, there was no escape from the fallout over allegedly pressuring the previous FBI director, James Comey, and about sharing secrets with the Russians. Talk of obstructing justice and endangering national security hung heavy in the air, even as the president spent the day on the road.
Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Things are not always fair.
LISA DESJARDINS: The firestorm in Washington clearly on the president’s mind at the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation in New London, Connecticut.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.
LISA DESJARDINS: He gave this advice to graduates.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.
LISA DESJARDINS: The president didn’t directly address the last day’s headlines. Those started with this report from The New York Times citing unnamed sources saying, in February, Mr. Trump spoke to former Director of the FBI James Comey about an investigation of his adviser Michael Flynn, and told Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”
That reportedly happened a day after Flynn was fired as national security adviser for lying about his contacts with the Russians. Comey himself was fired last week. The White House has denied the story, insisting the president never asked anyone to end any investigation.
But it all meant a new round of shockwaves across Capitol Hill. Democrats renewed calls for an independent commission or a special prosecutor on the Russia connection and Trump’s firing of Comey.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: The events of the last two weeks have shaken my confidence in this administration’s competence and credibility.
REP. RUBEN KIHUEN, D-Nev.: Look, enough is enough. President Trump’s unchecked and reckless behavior is impacting the national security of the United States of America.
LISA DESJARDINS: Among Republicans, Senator Lisa Murkowski Of Alaska also joined the call for a special counsel at the Department of Justice.
REP. RICK ALLEN, R-Ga.: Yes, I am praying for the president.
LISA DESJARDINS: Others, like Georgia Congressman Rick Allen, indicated concern for the White House.
REP. RICK ALLEN: How do you endure all this, so, and still try to govern?
LISA DESJARDINS: House Speaker Paul Ryan is withholding any conclusion for now, saying Congress has to get to the bottom of all this.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We need the facts. It is obvious that there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight, regardless of which party is in the White House.
LISA DESJARDINS: Alongside those words, a sudden flurry of activity. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz asked the FBI to send all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings about contact between James Comey and the president. And the committee says it hopes to have Comey testify next week.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also asking for Comey to testify, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is now getting involved, sending letters to the FBI and the White House asking for all memos and recordings as well.
Republican Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan went so far as to say, if the Comey memo is true, it would be grounds for impeachment.
But California Democrat Adam Schiff, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and a leading Trump critic, said it’s too soon to go there.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: No one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace, you know, the most extraordinary remedy, that involves the removal the president from office.
LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his own offer to Congress over reports that President Trump discussed highly classified information with Russian diplomats last week. Putin spoke at a news conference in Sochi, Russia.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): If the U.S. considers it necessary, we are ready to provide the Senate and U.S. Congress with a record of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump.
LISA DESJARDINS: Putin also decried what he called anti-Russian sentiment.
Special correspondent Nick Schifrin covers Russia. He spoke to us from the Dagestan region.
NICK SCHIFRIN: President Putin expressed a genuine frustration that, in his view, the Washington establishment won’t let President Trump improve the bilateral relationship. And he said he was concerned by Washington’s unpredictability.
But, at the same time, he cracked a joke at the U.S.’ expense, and the video showed senior Russian officials laughing. There’s a certain schadenfreude here in seeing Washington suffer such turbulence. As the senior Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman put it yesterday: “How do we live in this unstable world of information? With pleasure.”
LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, with the president back in Washington tonight, the next act in this political drama is set tomorrow. That’s when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate over the firing of James Comey and handling of the Russia investigation.
JOHN YANG: So, repeating the breaking news we reported at the top of the show, moments ago, the Justice Department announced that Robert Mueller, who is the former head of the FBI, is the special counsel to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Now, we go back to Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill.
Lisa, have you gotten any reaction to this from lawmakers yet?
LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. We have put out some calls, and we have a little bit of reaction from the House Democrat Leader’s office, Nancy Pelosi’s office.
They say they are furiously writing a statement, but they have told me that this doesn’t change their call for an independent commission, which is what they were working on today. They have been asking for an independent counsel of this sort, but they say they still want more than that.
From Republicans, our Capitol Hill producer Julie Percha just talked to Representative Peter King of New York. He is on the House Intelligence Committee. He told her that he thinks there was no allegation of a crime here, and he’s not sure a special counsel is needed.
So, no surprise, John, in this divided Congress, we have divided reaction right now to this announcement.
JOHN YANG: But is this going to turn the temperature down, do you think, on some of the rhetoric we’re hearing, especially from the Democrats?
LISA DESJARDINS: I think one factor here, in the choice of Robert Mueller, is that he is very well-known here and very well-respected in Congress.
That could help Republicans sort of say that we think there will be an up-and-up investigation that could get to the facts of the Russia probe. Now, at the same time, we have to remember that could be separate from what Congress does in this matter of potential obstruction of justice at the White House.
That’s where we’re seeing a lot of attention, especially in the Senate today, John, a lot of big decisions over how the Senate goes forward, and who handles those questions of what the president did or didn’t tell Mr. Comey about whether he should investigate Michael Flynn.
JOHN YANG: And, of course, that is going on, the Intelligence Committee calling for documents, the Judiciary Committee calling for documents. Where do you think that’s going to head from here?
LISA DESJARDINS: There’s a key person to watch, John. That is Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
No coincidence he was out of the spotlight today. He’s got a big decision to make. How hard does he press this matter? Traditionally, the Judiciary Committee is where you would see an obstruction of justice investigation or looking into this.
But is that where Republicans want to go when it is their own president who is in the questioning — who is being questioned here? It’s probably a decision for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Chuck Grassley. And Mr. Grassley sort of seemed to go out of his way today, John, to avoid reporters.
Dianne Feinstein, who is the ranking Democrat on that committee, said she absolutely wants Judiciary to be a lead committee on these questions. They are certainly stepping up their involvement, as you said, asking for more documents today, along with two other committees.
We are posting online all of these developments. It’s hard to keep track, but, right now, three committees asking for documents involving Mr. Comey, and that’s in addition to the two investigations in Congress in the Intelligence Committees on Russia.
JOHN YANG: Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill keeping up with these events that are fast-breaking, thank you very much, Lisa.
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