Melania Trump’s Moment: First Lady Flexes Muscles in Big Way

It turns out there is more than one Trump who can employ a few well-chosen words as a poison dart.

With a bombshell public statement this week, it was first lady Melania Trump who revealed her ability to carry out a political hit. Her extraordinary call for the removal of a top administration official forced the president to banish a top aide, exacerbated tensions within the White House and provided fresh insight into the first marriage.

Above all, the moment showed that the enigmatic first lady is increasingly prepared to flex her muscles. While it was President Donald Trump who repeatedly promised to shake up his Cabinet and staff, it was his wife who forced one of the first moves after the midterm elections. And while first ladies have long held unique positions of influence in the White House, Mrs. Trump’s very public power play was an unusual move befitting an unconventional White House.

“There have been similar activities on a less publicized scale, but it came out after the fact. We’ve never seen a first lady have her office make a public statement like that,” said Katherine Jellison, chair of the history department at Ohio University and an expert on first ladies. “It will be interesting to see if this is the new Melania.”

Jellison and others said the best comparison would be Nancy Reagan’s conflict with White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. But while that clash eventually became well known, Mrs. Reagan never issued a public statement.

Mrs. Trump, who appeared with her husband Friday at a White House ceremony to honor Medal of Freedom honorees, did not address the controversy directly.

The target of Mrs. Trump’s ire was Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel, who was said to have clashed with East Wing staff over logistics for the first lady’s trip to Africa last month.

A White House official said Mrs. Trump’s staff spent weeks working through “proper channels” to seek Ricardel’s ouster but that the situation came to a head earlier this week after reporters learned of the friction between Ricardel and the East Wing and began asking questions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

On Tuesday, the East Wing issued a terse and head-snapping statement about Ricardel: “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

A day later, Ricardel was gone from the White House.

The statement from Mrs. Trump’s office caught some senior White House officials by surprise. A White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly said there was a widespread feeling that the highly public spat reflected poorly on the West and East wings, reinforcing the idea that the administration is volatile and making the first lady look vengeful.

Both President Trump’s spokeswoman and National Security Adviser John Bolton issued glowing statements about Ricardel. The White House insisted she would move into a new administration role, though it was not clear what that position would be. Privately, insiders acknowledged that there was no way for Ricardel to stay in the West Wing once the first lady made her feelings known.

As the week closed, it appeared clear that the situation had heightened already fraught tensions between the two wings of the White House, with senior officials from Chief of Staff John Kelly and Bolton on down unhappy with how Ricardel, a Trump loyalist, was treated.

Mrs. Trump is considered an influential adviser to her husband. In an ABC News interview last month, she said there are people in the White House whom she and the president cannot trust. She declined to name anyone but said she had let the president know who they are.

“Well,” she added, “some people, they don’t work there anymore.”

Asked if some untrustworthy people still worked in the White House, Mrs. Trump replied, “Yes.”

The first lady has consistently pushed the boundaries of what is an entirely voluntary role. She opted to stay in New York for the first months of the administration so that the couple’s son Barron could conclude the school year and she has kept up a limited public schedule since arriving in Washington.

She has also taken pains to set herself apart from the rest of the White House and her husband. She launched an education campaign focused on bullying, despite the fact that the president is famed for verbal combat. She took an ambitious trip to Africa, not long after her husband was pilloried for labeling African nations as “s—hole countries.”

Clearly unafraid to make a deft pushback at times, the first lady’s office last summer put out a statement praising NBA superstar LeBron James’ charitable efforts after the president fired off a tweet questioning the basketball player’s intelligence. And when The New York Times reported that Trump was irate that his wife’s TV aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN, her office issued a statement saying Mrs. Trump watches “any channel she wants.”

As for the matter of fighting cyberbullying when her husband gets rapped for his cyber habits, the first lady told an online safety conference on Thursday that “It is not news or surprising to me that critics and the media have chosen to ridicule me for speaking out on this issue, and that’s OK.”

Before her husband reversed himself and put a halt to family separations at the border, Mrs. Trump’s office put out a statement saying the first lady “hates” to see families separated and expressing hope that “both sides of the aisle” can reform the nation’s immigration laws.

Mrs. Trump then drew attention for heading to Texas to visit migrant children at the southern border in a jacket emblazoned with the words “I don’t really care. Do U?” She later told ABC News that she wore the jacket “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.”

The first lady this week also made it clear she doesn’t need outside help carving out her role in the White House, after her predecessor Michelle Obama said that Mrs. Trump had never called her for advice or help in the job.

“Mrs. Trump is a strong and independent woman who has been navigating her role as first lady in her own way,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham wrote via email. “When she needs advice on any issue, she seeks it from her professional team within the White House.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Melania Trump’s Moment: First Lady Flexes Muscles in Big Way

It turns out there is more than one Trump who can employ a few well-chosen words as a poison dart.

With a bombshell public statement this week, it was first lady Melania Trump who revealed her ability to carry out a political hit. Her extraordinary call for the removal of a top administration official forced the president to banish a top aide, exacerbated tensions within the White House and provided fresh insight into the first marriage.

Above all, the moment showed that the enigmatic first lady is increasingly prepared to flex her muscles. While it was President Donald Trump who repeatedly promised to shake up his Cabinet and staff, it was his wife who forced one of the first moves after the midterm elections. And while first ladies have long held unique positions of influence in the White House, Mrs. Trump’s very public power play was an unusual move befitting an unconventional White House.

“There have been similar activities on a less publicized scale, but it came out after the fact. We’ve never seen a first lady have her office make a public statement like that,” said Katherine Jellison, chair of the history department at Ohio University and an expert on first ladies. “It will be interesting to see if this is the new Melania.”

Jellison and others said the best comparison would be Nancy Reagan’s conflict with White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. But while that clash eventually became well known, Mrs. Reagan never issued a public statement.

Mrs. Trump, who appeared with her husband Friday at a White House ceremony to honor Medal of Freedom honorees, did not address the controversy directly.

The target of Mrs. Trump’s ire was Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel, who was said to have clashed with East Wing staff over logistics for the first lady’s trip to Africa last month.

A White House official said Mrs. Trump’s staff spent weeks working through “proper channels” to seek Ricardel’s ouster but that the situation came to a head earlier this week after reporters learned of the friction between Ricardel and the East Wing and began asking questions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

On Tuesday, the East Wing issued a terse and head-snapping statement about Ricardel: “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

A day later, Ricardel was gone from the White House.

The statement from Mrs. Trump’s office caught some senior White House officials by surprise. A White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly said there was a widespread feeling that the highly public spat reflected poorly on the West and East wings, reinforcing the idea that the administration is volatile and making the first lady look vengeful.

Both President Trump’s spokeswoman and National Security Adviser John Bolton issued glowing statements about Ricardel. The White House insisted she would move into a new administration role, though it was not clear what that position would be. Privately, insiders acknowledged that there was no way for Ricardel to stay in the West Wing once the first lady made her feelings known.

As the week closed, it appeared clear that the situation had heightened already fraught tensions between the two wings of the White House, with senior officials from Chief of Staff John Kelly and Bolton on down unhappy with how Ricardel, a Trump loyalist, was treated.

Mrs. Trump is considered an influential adviser to her husband. In an ABC News interview last month, she said there are people in the White House whom she and the president cannot trust. She declined to name anyone but said she had let the president know who they are.

“Well,” she added, “some people, they don’t work there anymore.”

Asked if some untrustworthy people still worked in the White House, Mrs. Trump replied, “Yes.”

The first lady has consistently pushed the boundaries of what is an entirely voluntary role. She opted to stay in New York for the first months of the administration so that the couple’s son Barron could conclude the school year and she has kept up a limited public schedule since arriving in Washington.

She has also taken pains to set herself apart from the rest of the White House and her husband. She launched an education campaign focused on bullying, despite the fact that the president is famed for verbal combat. She took an ambitious trip to Africa, not long after her husband was pilloried for labeling African nations as “s—hole countries.”

Clearly unafraid to make a deft pushback at times, the first lady’s office last summer put out a statement praising NBA superstar LeBron James’ charitable efforts after the president fired off a tweet questioning the basketball player’s intelligence. And when The New York Times reported that Trump was irate that his wife’s TV aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN, her office issued a statement saying Mrs. Trump watches “any channel she wants.”

As for the matter of fighting cyberbullying when her husband gets rapped for his cyber habits, the first lady told an online safety conference on Thursday that “It is not news or surprising to me that critics and the media have chosen to ridicule me for speaking out on this issue, and that’s OK.”

Before her husband reversed himself and put a halt to family separations at the border, Mrs. Trump’s office put out a statement saying the first lady “hates” to see families separated and expressing hope that “both sides of the aisle” can reform the nation’s immigration laws.

Mrs. Trump then drew attention for heading to Texas to visit migrant children at the southern border in a jacket emblazoned with the words “I don’t really care. Do U?” She later told ABC News that she wore the jacket “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.”

The first lady this week also made it clear she doesn’t need outside help carving out her role in the White House, after her predecessor Michelle Obama said that Mrs. Trump had never called her for advice or help in the job.

“Mrs. Trump is a strong and independent woman who has been navigating her role as first lady in her own way,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham wrote via email. “When she needs advice on any issue, she seeks it from her professional team within the White House.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Federal Judge Orders White House to Return Press Pass to CNN Reporter

A federal judge ordered the White House to temporarily reinstate a Cable News Network correspondent’s press credentials, marking what press freedom advocates say is a win for the news media. CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration last week, after the White House revoked the credentials of a reporter who sparred with the president during a press conference. The case could have broad repercussions for First Amendment rights of journalists, as VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff explains.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Federal Judge Orders White House to Return Press Pass to CNN Reporter

A federal judge ordered the White House to temporarily reinstate a Cable News Network correspondent’s press credentials, marking what press freedom advocates say is a win for the news media. CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration last week, after the White House revoked the credentials of a reporter who sparred with the president during a press conference. The case could have broad repercussions for First Amendment rights of journalists, as VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff explains.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Prosecutors in Plea Deal Talks With Accused Russian Agent

U.S. prosecutors and lawyers for accused Russian agent Maria Butina are engaging in negotiations, both sides said in a court filing Friday, raising the possibility the case could be resolved with a plea deal.

Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who has publicly advocated for gun rights, was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Russia.

She is accused of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and influence American foreign policy toward Russia.

Currently jailed awaiting trial, Butina has pleaded not guilty. She could face years in prison if convicted.

Potential resolution

The parties “continue to engage … in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter,” prosecutors and Butina’s lawyers wrote in a joint filing Friday, without elaborating on what resolution might materialize.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan later granted a joint request for a delay in a status hearing in the case that had been set for Dec. 6, scheduling a new hearing for Dec. 19.

After the delay was granted, defense lawyers withdrew motions they had filed Thursday to dismiss the case. Such talks sometimes lead to a deal in which a defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges to resolve a case.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina and who is under a media gag order imposed by the judge in the case, declined to comment when asked whether his client may plead guilty in order to resolve the case.

Prosecution missteps

The prosecution has made serious missteps in the case, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group. They later backed off the claim and earned scorn from the judge, who said the incorrect allegations were “notorious” and had damaged Butina’s reputation.

Butina’s lawyers have previously identified the Russian official with whom she was accused of working as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.

They identified one of the two Americans mentioned in the criminal complaint as being Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina. Neither Erickson nor Torshin have been accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing.

Questions relating to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency. Moscow has labeled the case against Butina “fabricated” and called for her release.

Prosecutors have called Butina a flight risk and said she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Federal Reserve Policymakers See Rate Hikes Ahead, Note Worries

Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate  increases ahead, but raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global  slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the Fed’s rate hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question in front of U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create new jobs?

“We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent,” Richard Clarida, the newly appointed vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a CNBC interview. “I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed’s projection of where it’s going, that being at neutral would make sense,” he added, defining “neutral” as interest rates somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

But that range that implies anywhere from two more to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many more increases he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring higher interest rates. But he also

sounded a mild warning.

“There is some evidence of global slowing,” Clarida said. “That’s something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

“It’s my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States,” Kaplan said. .

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed’s policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed’s current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days.

At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week.

Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by “big boys and girls” who

understand the risks.

He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level.

Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet.

But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

“There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit — nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; [the slowing] housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said.

“But at the moment, it’s not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind.”

Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: “They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Federal Reserve Policymakers See Rate Hikes Ahead, Note Worries

Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate  increases ahead, but raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global  slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the Fed’s rate hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question in front of U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create new jobs?

“We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent,” Richard Clarida, the newly appointed vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a CNBC interview. “I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed’s projection of where it’s going, that being at neutral would make sense,” he added, defining “neutral” as interest rates somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

But that range that implies anywhere from two more to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many more increases he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring higher interest rates. But he also

sounded a mild warning.

“There is some evidence of global slowing,” Clarida said. “That’s something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

“It’s my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States,” Kaplan said. .

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed’s policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed’s current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days.

At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week.

Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by “big boys and girls” who

understand the risks.

He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level.

Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet.

But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

“There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit — nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; [the slowing] housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said.

“But at the moment, it’s not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind.”

Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: “They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley’s Move to Leave Key Opening

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference.

In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy.

The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is also investigating.

On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel’s probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation.

As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley’s Move to Leave Key Opening

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference.

In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy.

The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is also investigating.

On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel’s probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation.

As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Trump Says He Has Finished Answers to Special Counsel’s Questions

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he had completed his written answers for the federal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016election, but had not yet submitted them to the U.S. Special Counsel’s Office.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he wrote the answers to the questions himself, not his lawyers.

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!
1 2 3 632