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New Trump Office Would Protect Conscience Rights of Doctors

Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.

The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.

The religious and conscience division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. Officials said it will focus on upholding protections already part of federal law. Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding.

No new efforts to expand such protections were announced, but activists on both sides expect the administration will try to broaden them in the future.

Although the HHS civil rights office has traditionally received few complaints alleging conscience violations, HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan painted a picture of clinicians under government coercion to violate the dictates of conscience.

“For too long, too many health care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system,” Hargan told the audience.

“The federal government and state governments have hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to provide or refer for services that violate their consciences, when they only wish to serve according to their religious beliefs,” Hargan added.

After Hargan spoke, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, provided an example of the kind of case the new office should tackle. McCarthy told the audience he has “high hopes” that the “arrogance” of a California law known as AB 775 “will be investigated and resolved quickly.”

That law, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and other services, is the subject of a free-speech challenge brought by the pregnancy centers that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the HHS civil rights office traditionally has gotten a small number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights, the number has grown since Trump was elected.

Office director Roger Severino said that from 2008 to Nov. 2016, HHS received 10 such complaints. Since Trump won, the office has received 34 new complaints. Before his appointment to government service under Trump, Severino was an expert on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The new HHS office joins the list of administration actions seen as pleasing to social conservatives, including expanded exemptions for employers who object to providing contraceptive coverage, and the White House move to bar military service by transgender people. Those initiatives have run into legal challenges.

Critics voice concerns

Democrats, LGBT organizations and some civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the administration’s latest action.

“They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., pledged to keep a close eye on the new enforcement office. “Religious freedom should not mean that our health care providers have a license to discriminate or impose their beliefs on others,” Pallone said. He is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many health care issues.

LGBT-rights organizations suggested some medical providers will be emboldened to shun gay, lesbian and transgender patients.

“LGBT people have already been turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices,” said Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “The Orwellian ‘Conscience and Religious Freedom’ unit simply provides guidance on how they can get away with it.”

But conservatives said the new office will help maintain balance in the health care system. It’s a world that has become increasingly secular, even if many of its major institutions sprang from religious charity.

“In the context of health care, Americans have very deep, sincere differences on a number of ethical and moral matters,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Melanie Israel. “It’s these conscience protections that allow us to work and live alongside each other despite our differences.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

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Despite Lowest First Year Approval Rating, Rural Voters Stand Behind Trump

Recent surveys show that most Americans view President Trump as a divisive figure, and he ends his first year with the lowest average approval rating of any elected president in his first term — 39 percent, according to Gallup. However, many voters in rural America still support the president. They say politicians in both parties and the media are working to undermine Trump. Mike O’Sullivan paid a visit to rural Lassen County, California, one of the areas where Trump has strong support.

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Trump to Pennsylvania, but Don’t Call it a Campaign Trip

President Donald Trump is tiptoeing around the first congressional election of the new year as he heads to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to hail the Republican tax cuts he signed last year.

Trump will appear with the Republican nominee for a Pittsburgh-area House seat. But the White House said Trump won’t mention Rick Saccone in his remarks. And the event isn’t actually in the 18th Congressional District, which holds the special election March 13. 

Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily any more confident in the chances that lawyer and former Marine Conor Lamb can flip the district to their side.

The handling of the race shows both sides’ reluctance to put too much emphasis on one contest amid the high stakes of this midterm election year.

Saccone, a, 59-year-old state lawmaker, is trying to succeed Tim Murphy, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. Lamb, 33, is looking for an upset in a union-heavy district Trump won by almost 20 points and where Murphy never got less than 58 percent of the vote in eight tries.

It’s not surprising that Trump, looking for wins after the embarrassment of losing a Senate seat last month in conservative Alabama, might embrace a favored Republican in Trump-friendly territory. 

“We’re in Trump country here,” Saccone said in an interview Wednesday, framing his candidacy as an extension of the agenda that propelled Trump. “It’s only natural to have him come out to see his core constituency and have us celebrate his successes with him.”

Yet the White House would confirm only that Saccone will greet the president at the airport and attend Trump’s tour of a local factory. 

Saccone, a retired Air Force officer with a doctorate in international affairs and experience in counterterrorism, said he didn’t know whether he’d be seated with the president or even get to spend any time one-on-one with him. “I don’t have any details,” he said after spending the day in Washington raising money alongside GOP House leaders.

Jesse Hunt of the National Republican Congressional Committee said, “We’re confident this seat will remain in Republican hands.” 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened offices in the district with paid canvassers. Political groups bankrolled by the billionaire Ricketts family – owners of the Chicago Cubs – are airing television ads on Saccone’s behalf. Those are not the moves of party titans completely sure of victory.

Democrats aren’t exactly countering with exuberance. At the national party’s House campaign headquarters, spokeswoman Meredith Kelly praised Lamb’s “long record of public service to our country.” But the party hasn’t included the 18th District on its official list of GOP-held targets, which now includes 91 seats. Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain a majority in the House.

In 2017, Democrats managed surprisingly competitive races in four special congressional races in heavily Republican districts, only to lose all four. The trends pointed to Democratic enthusiasm, but still didn’t alter the partisan breakdown in Washington.

To flip that script, Lamb must “run a perfect campaign,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic campaign strategist who has run congressional races in the Pittsburgh area. “But it can be done,” Mikus added.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 70,000, a reflection of organized labor’s long influence in the district. But many of those union households embraced Trump’s populist, protectionist message in 2016, and Mikus noted they’re also culturally conservative. 

Still, Lamb and Democrats believe they have an opening that wasn’t available before, given that Murphy was among the few Washington Republicans who voted with labor unions and regularly got their endorsements. 

This time, the state AFL-CIO has endorsed Lamb, and he is trying to strike the tone Mikus says is necessary for a Democrat to win.

Lamb’s first television ad, set to air Thursday alongside the president’s arrival, notes he has refused “corporate PAC money” and believes both parties “need new leaders in Congress.” That’s a reference to his promise to not to back House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker; the California Democrat remains unpopular in many congressional districts and the GOP regularly uses her as a cudgel on Democratic nominees. 

The 30-second spot also tells voters that Lamb grew up in the district and says he “still loves to shoot.”

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Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Subpoenaed in Russia Probe

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon refused to answer questions Tuesday from lawmakers who are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Bannon spent hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee, one of several bodies conducting its own Russia probe.

The committee responded to Bannon’s refusal by issuing a subpoena. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said White House officials had instructed Bannon to not answer questions.

“No one has encouraged him to be anything but transparent,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

She said the Trump administration has been “cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations” and that the Congress has to consult with the White House before it can obtain confidential material.

Schiff said he expects Bannon to make another appearance before the committee.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia. 

Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.

Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions. 

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said in a Twitter comment Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!”

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia, and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation. 

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21 States Sue to Keep Net Neutrality as Senate Democrats Reach 50 Votes

A group of 21 U.S. state attorneys general filed suit to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with net neutrality on Tuesday, while Democrats said they needed just one more vote in the Senate to repeal the FCC ruling.

The attorneys general filed a petition with a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to challenge the action, calling it “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion” and saying that it violated federal laws and regulations.

The petition was filed as Senate Democrats said they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal.

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement that all 49 Democrats in the upper chamber backed the repeal. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she would back the effort to overturn the FCC’s move. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

Override would be difficult

Trump backed the FCC action, the White House said last month, and overturning a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers. A two-thirds vote would be much harder for Democrats in the House, where Republicans hold a greater majority.

States said the lawsuit was filed in an abundance of caution because, typically, a petition to challenge would not be filed until the rules legally take effect, which is expected later this year.

Internet advocacy group Free Press, the Open Technology Institute and Mozilla Corp. filed similar protective petitions Tuesday.

The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the issue would be a major motivating factor for the young voters the party is courting.

A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon said it would support legal challenges to the reversal.

The FCC vote in December marked a victory for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications and handed them power over what content consumers can access on the internet. It was the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations.

Disclosure required

While the FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers, it does require public disclosure of any blocking practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers obtain online content.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, said in an interview Tuesday that he planned to hold a hearing on paid prioritization. He has urged Democrats to work constructively on a legislative solution to net neutrality “to bring certainty and clarity going forward and ban behaviors like blocking and throttling.”

He said he did not believe a vote to overturn the FCC decision would get a majority in the U.S. House. Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said Tuesday that his bill to reverse the FCC decision had 80 co-sponsors.

Paid prioritization is part of American life, Walden said. “Where do you want to sit on the airplane? Where do you want to sit on Amtrak?” he said.

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Report: Special Counsel Subpoenas Former Trump Aide Bannon

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury in a probe of alleged ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

It was the first time Mueller is known to have used a subpoena against a member of Trump’s inner circle, the Times said. It cited a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment. Bill Burck, a lawyer for Bannon, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The reported subpoena of Bannon does not mean he is a target of Mueller’s criminal investigation.

Bannon, a champion of Trump’s “America First” agenda, was among the Republican’s closest aides during the 2016 election campaign, the presidential transition and his first months in office.

But the pair had a bitter public falling out over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his recent book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

In the book, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting between Trump associates, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

The meeting came after Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that the Russian government had compromising information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to which he replied: “I love it.”

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Bannon was fired by the White House in August and returned to the right-wing news website Breitbart News. He continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president’s agenda.

But Trump accused Bannon of having “lost his mind” when news of his comments to Wolff surfaced earlier this month. Six days later, Bannon stepped down as executive chairman at Breitbart.

Pressure tactic?

Mueller’s subpoena, which was issued last week, could be a pressure tactic to induce Bannon to cooperate fully with his investigation.

Attorney Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said the most likely reason for a Mueller subpoena of Bannon was that “he thought having an attorney present and giving Bannon a more relaxed setting would not yield the same testimony as if he got him in the grand jury room with no attorney there and a more adversarial style of questioning.”

A witness is not permitted to bring an attorney into a federal grand jury proceeding, but can step outside to consult with counsel.

Separately on Tuesday, Bannon spent hours meeting behind closed doors with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. He was the latest high-profile figure to appear before the panel as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election.

After Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House — as opposed to during the campaign — Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman, authorized a subpoena during the meeting to press Bannon to respond.

“Of course I authorized the subpoena. That’s how the rules work,” Nunes told reporters.

Asked if the White House had told Bannon not to answer certain questions, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “As with all congressional activities touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”

“We’ve been cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests,” she said.

Later in the week, the panel will hear from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who served as Trump’s spokeswoman during his presidential campaign after a tenure with his Trump Organization real estate business, is also expected to be questioned by the committee this week, according to a congressional source.

Democrats on the committee have accused Republicans of rushing to wrap up the probe to help give the president political cover, despite their requests to interview more witnesses. Republicans have denied the charge.

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Trump Continues to Criticize Democrats Over DACA Demands

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized Democrat lawmakers Tuesday, saying their demands to include protections for young undocumented immigrants in a bill that would prevent a government shut-down this week would cost the military.

“The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security.The biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever.We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now!No more dangerous Lottery,” Trump posted on Twitter.

The White House-congressional talks about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are linked to urgent meetings this week about funding to keep the government operating beyond Friday midnight, when current spending authorization expires.

Democratic leaders have said they most likely oppose a measure that does not protect the young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” including the nearly 800,000 who have entered the United States under the DACA program.This has raised the ire of Trump, who again insisted on Twitter the spending bill must satisfy his demands for tighter border security. 

“We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!”

Deportation status

Even if legislators do not approve a program to protect the immigrants, deporting them will not be a top federal government priority, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen. 

“It’s not going to be a priority of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Nielsen told CBS News Tuesday. “If you are a DACA that’s compliant with your registration, meaning you haven’t committed a crime and you in fact are registered, you are not a priority of enforcement for ICE should the program end.”

Despite Nielsen’s remarks, Trump has greatly expanded the categories of people who can be prioritized for deportation, a move immigration advocates say puts DACA recipients who lose their status at risk.

Nielsen’s comments were made as the battle over an immigration agreement has been complicated by Trump’s controversial remarks at White House meeting last Thursday. 

Race issue raised

During the meeting, Trump was reported to have referred to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as coming from “s—hole countries,” as he asked why the United States is letting in immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa and said he wanted more from countries such as Norway.

During testimony under oath Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Secretary Nielsen was asked if she heard the vulgarity used.

Nielsen responded that she “did not hear”’ Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries, but added she doesn’t “dispute the president was using tough language.”

At one point after news surfaced about his remark, Trump tweeted, “Never said anything derogatory about Haiti.Made up by Dems.I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately no trust.”

Trump’s reported remarks has fueled Democrat charges he is a racist.On Sunday, Trump denied he is a racist, telling reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in the state of Florida, “I am the least racist person you will ever interview.” 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders continued the narrative Tuesday, saying claims Trump is racist are “outrageous.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday on CBS’s Late Show that Trump could demonstrate he is not a racist by signing an immigration bill that would protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Trump is tying an extension of DACA, a temporary program championed by his predecessor Barack Obama, to funding for a wall he wants built along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Building a wall to stop further illegal immigration was a campaign promise Trump made during his successful 2016 run to the White House. 

Many Democrats want extending DACA to be a separate issue from building a wall – something they oppose.Trump last September signed an executive order ending DACA, but gave Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue.

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Late-2018 Start Seen for Trial of Ex-Trump Campaign Chairman

A mid-May date proposed by prosecutors for the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate is too soon, a federal judge said Tuesday, signaling that the politically charged proceeding could be pushed back to later in the year.

Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the Russia investigation, had indicated in court papers filed last week that they would seek a trial date of May 14 for Manafort and former business partner Rick Gates. They told U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson on Tuesday that they needed about three weeks to try the case. 

But defense attorneys for Manafort and Gates argued that Mueller’s office had not presented them with all the evidence it possessed against their clients and that the proposed date would not give them enough time to go through everything.

“We need the time and are the least prepared of anyone here,” an attorney for Gates said. 

Judge concurs

Jackson agreed, saying the trial could be pushed back to as late as September or October.

“The discovery needs to get done and motions have to be filed,” Jackson said during a pre-trial hearing — known as a status conference — meeting with prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

In October, a federal grand jury indicted Manafort and Gates on 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and other charges in connection with their lobbying for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russia political party. They’ve pleaded not guilty. 

The charges are unrelated to the Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and allegations of collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Manafort remains under house confinement. But Jackson later issued an order releasing Gates from home confinement, saying he had complied with her bond requirements.

Manafort’s attorneys filed a civil lawsuit this month against Mueller and the Justice Department, challenging the special counsel’s appointment and seeking the dismissal of the indictment. A prosecutor told Jackson that the special counsel intended to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the “proper procedure” to challenge the charges is through her court. Jackson gave the two sides until Friday to decide whether they want that case transferred and reassigned to her. 

The parties agreed to hold their next status conference with Jackson on February 14. 

Guilty pleas

In addition to bringing charges against Manafort and Gates, Mueller’s team has secured guilty pleas from two other former Trump associates.

In early October, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy consultant for the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty of lying to federal agents about his secret efforts to secure a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.

In December, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI about a series of phone conversations he had with Russia’s former ambassador to Washington during Trump’s transition.

Both are cooperating with Mueller’s team.

The special counsel has interviewed several current and former White House officials in connection with the Russia investigation. The New York Times reported Tuesday that former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had been subpoenaed to appear before the federal grand jury investigating the Russian election meddling.

Bannon on Tuesday met behind closed doors with members of the House Intelligence Committee as part of the panel’s own investigation of the Russian election meddling.

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Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Questioned in Russia Probe

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief White House strategist, is being questioned Tuesday by lawmakers in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Bannon, who was a key Trump campaign aide and for seven months a top White House adviser before he was ousted, is appearing behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, one of several ongoing investigations in Washington about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic Party Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve,” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency.  When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”  Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.

The House Intelligence panel is likely to question Bannon about the June 2016 meeting set up by the younger Trump, who has told investigators the Russian lawyer produced no damaging information about Clinton.  Investigators are also looking into then candidate Trump’s role in writing a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, an explanation that quickly fell apart.

Bannon is also likely to be asked about his contention in Wolff’s book that special counsel Robert Mueller, head of the criminal investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, is focusing on alleged money-laundering by campaign officials.  Bannon could also be asked about his knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s talks with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power a year ago and whether Trump, despite his denials, has any intention of firing Mueller.

Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions yet.

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative.  The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems.  Public gets it!”

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Mueller is also investigating whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation.

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