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Notorious Nunes Memo Is Criticized as Political Tool  

The Nunes memo is a four-page document creating a big controversy in Washington, despite few people outside Congress having read it. It has even become the subject of a rift between U.S. President Donald Trump and his FBI director, Christopher Wray.

But what is in this memo that is upsetting so many people?

Critics of the document say the memo seeks to discredit the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department, which are involved in the effort to uncover whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

The document was created by staff members of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican, alleging the FBI abused its authority to conduct surveillance by seeking a court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. 

Reports say the memo was produced solely by Republican members of the committee without the knowledge of committee Democrats.

The memo, along with a 10-page Democrat rebuttal, was released to the full House of Representatives on Jan. 24.

There is controversy over whether the document should be released to the public. Republicans want to, but Democrats and other critics fear it could expose sensitive Justice Department files related to the Russia investigation. Not only could that be an immediate problem, critics say, but it could set an uncomfortable precedent that could make the FBI and DOJ (Department of Justice) reluctant to share materials with the House Intelligence Committee in the future.

Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly criticized the memo as “rife with factual inaccuracies” that are “meant to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI.” 

Complicating the matter, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that tracks efforts by foreign nations to interfere with democratic institutions, the Alliance for Security Democracy, reported last month that the hashtag #ReleasetheMemo was being heavily used by hundreds of pro-Russia Twitter accounts that regularly spread disinformation. That connection could support the argument that the Republican memo is meant to discredit the FBI Russia investigation.

While the full House has had access to both the Republicans’ and Democrats’ competing papers on the subject, Democrats on the committee have drafted a 10-page rebuttal memo, but the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to release publicly only the Republican version, rejecting Schiff’s motion to release the Democratic rebuttal. This has prompted accusations that the Republicans are trying to control the conversation by releasing only what information they find advantageous. 

Republicans also rejected a motion giving the FBI and DOJ additional time to vet the document.

The president is tasked with deciding whether the Republican memo should be released to the public or kept secret. Trump has advocated release of the memo in the past.

Arguments over the memo have created new divisions in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday openly opposed release of the Nunes memo, saying he has “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy.

As of Thursday afternoon, the document remains under review at the White House. A senior administration official told The Washington Post that the president “is inclined to approve release of the memo today or tomorrow.”

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Trump Warns Republicans Against Labeling Young Immigrants as ‘Dreamers’

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Republican lawmakers Thursday against labeling hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing deportation as “Dreamers,” as their advocates call them while trying to keep him from returning them to their native countries.

“Some people call it Dreamers. It’s not Dreamers. Don’t fall into that trap,” Trump told the Republicans at a political party retreat at a West Virginia resort. “We have dreamers in this country, too. We can’t forget our dreamers.”

The term Dreamers is derived from the DREAM Act, legislation that would have protected young immigrants brought to this country as children from deportation but was not passed by Congress. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an administrative program implemented under former President Barack Obama, provides many of the same protections and authorizes the young immigrants to work in the United States.

Trump plan

Trump last year rescinded DACA but gave Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue. He has proposed a 10- to 12-year track to citizenship for about 1.8 million younger immigrants who have DACA protection or are eligible for its guarantees.

The president said Thursday that he hoped Congress would reach an agreement on legislation to protect DACA beneficiaries, but he accused Democrats of politicizing contentious immigration issues while not seriously trying to resolve them.

“We want to take care of DACA and I hope we will,” Trump said. “We need the support of the Democrats in order to do it, and they might not want to do it. They talk like they do, but … we’re going to find out very soon. To get it done, we’ll all have to make some compromises along the way. We have to be willing to give a little in order for our country to gain a whole lot.”

​’Sanity and common sense’

Trump, as he did in his State of the Union address earlier in the week, called for the Republicans to adopt his immigration reform plans. His proposals include protection of the young immigrants who years ago were brought illegally into the country by their parents; construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico to thwart more illegal migration; an end to a lottery for immigration applicants; and stricter family migration policies.

“What the American people are pleading for is sanity and common sense in our immigration system,” Trump said.

He said Democrats “want to use [immigration] as an election issue.” But he contended that with his proposal, which he called a compromise, “it’s an election issue that will go to our benefit, not their benefit.”

Earlier in the day, Trump said in a Twitter comment, “March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Democrats are doing nothing about DACA. They Resist, Blame, Complain and Obstruct — and do nothing. Start pushing Nancy Pelosi and the Dems to work out a DACA fix, NOW!” Pelosi is the House Democratic leader.

Trump urged the Republicans to “pass immigration reform that protects our country, defends our borders and modernizes our immigration rules to serve the needs of American workers and of American families. We want an immigration policy that’s fair, equitable, that’s going to protect our people.”

Battle at the polls

He said that if Democrats do not agree to negotiate immigration reforms, then Republicans need to elect more of their party members to increase the size of the majorities they now have in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The immigration debate is linked to discussions between Congress and the White House about funding for government agencies, with a current stopgap spending measure expiring on February 9. The immigration issue was at the center of a funding dispute that led last month to a three-day partial shutdown of government agencies.

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Trump Falsely Claims Most-Watched State of Union Speech

President Donald Trump says the ratings for his first State of the Union address this week are “the highest number in history,” but that is not true.

Nielsen reports that about 45.6 million tuned in to watch Trump Tuesday night. That’s below viewership for President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union, which was about 48 million, and Trump’s own joint address to Congress last year.

It also trails the 46.8 million viewers who tuned into President Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union speech, and the 51.7 million who watched President George W. Bush’s 2002 address.

 

Trump falsely argued last year that his inauguration was the most well-attended one ever.

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5 Things: What Yellen’s Fed Tenure Will be Remembered For

When Janet Yellen leaves the Federal Reserve this weekend after four years as chair, her legacy will include having shattered a social barrier: She is the first woman to have led the world’s most powerful central bank, a position that carries enormous sway over the global economy.

 

Yellen will be remembered, too, for her achievements in deftly guiding the Fed’s role in the U.S. economy’s slow recovery from a crushing financial crisis and recession. She picked up where her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, had left off in nurturing the nation’s recuperation from a crisis that nearly toppled the financial system.

As Jerome Powell prepares to succeed Yellen as leader of the U.S. central bank, here are five areas in which Yellen’s era at the Fed will be remembered:

 

Crisis management

 

Yellen served not just the past four years as Fed chair but for 2½ years in the 1990s as a Fed board member, then six years as president of the Fed’s San Francisco regional bank and then for four years as the Fed’s vice chair during Bernanke’s second four-year term. In all those roles, Yellen proved herself an able economic forecaster. She often detected perils before others saw reason for alarm, and she became a forceful advocate, especially during the Great Recession, for an aggressive response to economic weakness.

 

Transcripts of Fed policy meetings from the fall of 2008, when Lehman Brothers’ collapse ignited the most dangerous phase of the financial crisis, show that Yellen helped drive the Fed to unleash just about everything in its economic arsenal, including slashing its key short-term interest rate to a record low near zero.

Bold actions

 

As the recession deepened and millions more Americans lost jobs, Yellen was an assertive voice backing up Bernanke in the path-breaking move by the Fed to buy enormous quantities of Treasury and mortgage bonds to try to drive down long-term borrowing rates to support the economy. Critics warned that the bond purchases, which eventually swelled the Fed’s balance sheet five-fold to $4.5 trillion, could trigger high inflation. So far, inflation has not only remained low but for six years has remained below even the Fed’s 2 percent target rate.

 

The Yellen-led Fed continued to support the bond purchases in the face of skepticism. Later, it rebuffed pressure to start selling off its record-high bond holdings. Finally, in October, after the Fed felt it had achieved its goal of maximum employment, it began gradually paring its bond portfolio.

 

Clear communications

 

Yellen extended an innovation of the Bernanke Fed by holding quarterly news conferences after four of the eight policy meetings each year. At these roughly hour-long sessions, Yellen usually managed to shed some light on the Fed’s thinking about its rate policy while cautioning that any future policy changes would hinge on the latest economic data. By all accounts, she avoided any major communication stumbles by telegraphing the Fed’s moves in advance to avoid catching investors off guard.

Her success in this area contrasted with a rare but memorable stumble by Bernanke: In 2013, as Fed chairman, Bernanke triggered what came to be called the “taper tantrum.” It occurred when he first raised the possibility that the Fed could start gradually tapering its bond purchases sometime in the months to follow — unexpected remarks that sent bond prices plunging.

 

Jobs above all

 

Yellen, more than her predecessors, stressed the overarching importance of increasing job growth to the greatest level possible. Maximum employment is one of the two mandates Congress lays out for the Fed. The other is to manage interest rates to promote stable prices, which the Fed has defined as inflation averaging 2 percent annually.

 

Yellen’s predecessors typically worried most about triggering debilitating bouts of inflation of the kind that the United States suffered in the 1970s. That meant favoring higher rates to limit borrowing and spending.

 

Yellen was different. She believed the U.S. economy had entered an era in which the gravest threat was not a resurgence of inflation but a prolonged period of weak job growth. She argued that the Fed could leave its key policy rate at a record low near zero for far longer than had previously been thought prudent.

 

The Fed’s benchmark rate remained near zero from late 2008 until December 2015, when the central bank raised it modestly. Since then, the Fed has gradually raised rates four additional times, leaving its key rate in a still-low range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent — well below the level usually associated with a prolonged economic expansion and a tight job market.

 

History’s judgment

 

So far, Yellen has been proved correct in her bet that rates could remain lower for longer without causing high inflation. The unemployment rate has reached a 17-year low of 4.1 percent with still-low inflation.

 

Yet many of Yellen’s critics remain unconvinced. They contend that her insistence on low rates has helped swell dangerous bubbles in such assets as stocks and perhaps home prices. They further warn that because the Fed took so long to begin raising rates, a Powell-led Fed could trigger market turbulence with further rate increases and end up harming the economy — possibly even triggering a recession.

 

Yellen’s supporters, though, argue that once again she will be proved correct and that the Fed will be able to achieve an economic soft landing: Raising rates enough to keep the economy from overheating but not so much as to derail the expansion, already the third-longest in U.S. history.

 

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Trump’s Softer Tone Wins Positive Reviews, but Democrats Skeptical

Public opinion polls indicate President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address got a generally positive response from viewers. The president emphasized unity and bipartisanship in his speech, which pleased many Republicans, but left Democrats skeptical about his true intentions and the road ahead. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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US Official: Controversial Republican Memo to Be Released Quickly

The White House plans to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said on Wednesday.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview on Fox News Radio, adding he had seen the four-page document and that White House lawyers were reviewing it.

Kelly’s comments follow Trump’s response to a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that suggested there was a “100 percent chance” the memo would be made public.

Justice Department officials have warned that releasing the memo would be reckless. On Monday, department officials advised Kelly against releasing the memo on the grounds it could jeopardize classified information, the Washington Post reported.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the White House the memo contains inaccurate information and offers a false picture, according to Bloomberg News.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday the memo was still being reviewed and “there’s always a chance” that it would not be released.

The memo has become a lightning rod in a bitter partisan fight over the FBI amid ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion by Trump’s campaign, something both Russia and Trump have denied.

Republicans, who blocked an effort to release a counterpoint memo by Democrats on the panel, have said it shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

Democrats have said the memo selectively uses highly classified materials in a misleading effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired him.

The House panel this week voted along partisan lines to release the memo. Trump has until the weekend to decide whether to make it public.

“The priority here is not our national security, it’s not the country, it’s not the interest of justice. It’s just the naked, personal interest of the president,” U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, said at an event hosted

by the Axios news outlet.

Sanders told CNN Trump had not seen the memo before his address on Tuesday night or immediately afterwards.

The document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the House committee’s Republican chairman who had recused himself from the panel’s Russia probe.

Sanders said she did not know if Nunes had worked with anyone at the White House on it: “I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.”

 

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Train Carrying GOP Lawmakers to Policy Retreat Hits Truck

A train carrying several Republican lawmakers from Washington to a retreat in West Virginia was involved in an accident with a truck Wednesday in southwestern Virginia.

The White House said none of the lawmakers or their staff members were seriously injured but that one person was killed and another seriously injured. News accounts said the person killed was on the truck.

“The president has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates,” the statement said. “There is one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, a passenger on the train, posted on Twitter that he and his wife Rebecca were not injured.  “The train carrying GOP members to our retreat had a collision, but Rebecca and I are both okay.  Security and doctors on board are helping secure the scene and treat injuries.”

Congressman Greg Walden also tweeted he was not injured and said emergency personnel are helping those who were on the truck.

“We are fine, but our train hit a garbage truck.  Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck.”

The crash occurred about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The lawmakers were en route to the Greebrier resort in the state of West Virginia to discuss how to sell their new tax law and how to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to join the legislators Thursday.

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Clinton Regrets not Firing Adviser Accused of Harassment

Hillary Clinton says she should not have let a senior campaign adviser keep his job after a female staffer accused him of sexual harassment in 2007.

“The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women,” Clinton wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “So I very much understand the question I’m being asked as to why I let an employee on my 2008 campaign keep his job despite his inappropriate workplace behavior. The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.”

 

Clinton said that senior campaign staff and legal counsel confirmed that the behavior by faith-based adviser Burns Strider had occurred after the woman came forward. Her campaign manager recommended that Strider be terminated, but Clinton said she instead demoted him, docked his pay, required counseling, separated him from the victim, and warned him that he’d be fired if he did it again.

 

The Times reported that Strider declined to attend the counseling sessions. He did not immediately respond Wednesday to a call and email requesting comment. Strider told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t consider his behavior “excessive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t to” the woman.

 

Clinton said that there were no further complaints against Strider during the rest of the campaign, but that she is troubled that he was terminated from a job leading an independent political action committee supporting Clinton for inappropriate behavior several years later.

 

“I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous. I also believe in second chances,” Clinton said in the post published shortly before the start of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. “But sometimes they’re squandered.”

 

She said that the reoccurrence of the behavior “troubles me greatly” and leads her to question whether it would have been better if she had fired him.

 

“There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now.”

 

Clinton said that her first thought after the Times report “was for the young woman involved” and that she reached out to her “to see how she was doing, but also to help me reflect on my decision and its consequences.”

 

“She expressed appreciation that she worked on a campaign where she knew she could come forward without fear,” Clinton said. “She was glad that her accusations were taken seriously, that there was a clear process in place for dealing with harassment, and that it was followed. Most importantly, she told me that for the remainder of the campaign, she flourished in her new role.”

 

She said the woman “read every word of this and has given me permission to share it.”

 

 

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FACT CHECK: Snapshots From Trump’s Speech

The AP is fact-checking prepared remarks from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech. Here’s a look at some of the claims we’ve examined:

Tax cuts

Trump: “We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.” — excerpt released by White House.

The Facts: No truer now than in the countless other times he has said the same. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War Two tax cuts and at least several more.

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump’s package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War Two.

Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.

 

Worker bonuses

 

Trump: “Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.” — excerpt of speech released by the White House.

The Facts: This appears to be true, but may not be as impressive as it sounds. According to a tally of public announcements by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supported the tax law, about 3 million workers have gotten bonuses, raises or larger payments to their retirement accounts since the tax law was signed.

That’s about 2 percent of the more than 154 million Americans with jobs. The Labor Department said before the tax package was signed into law that 38 percent of workers would likely get some form of bonus in 2017.

Few companies have granted across-the-board pay raises, which Trump and GOP leaders promised would result from the cut in corporate tax rates included in the overhaul. Many, such as Walmart and BB&T Bank, said they will raise their minimum wages. Walmart made similar announcements in 2015 and 2016.

 

Energy production

 

Trump: “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal.” — excerpt of speech released by White House.

 

The Facts: Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Barack Obama’s, making accusations of a “war on energy” hard to sustain. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W. Bush was no adversary of the energy industry.

One of Trump’s consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a source of foreign oil, from Canada.

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