Trump Issued Summons for Lawsuit on Possible Constitutional Violation

U.S. President Donald Trump has been issued a summons by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and the neighboring state of Maryland, alleging his business activities are violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The summons issued earlier this week is addressed to Trump in both “his official capacity and his individual capacity.”

The lawsuit alleges that representatives from foreign governments who stay at Trump’s hotels constitute a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution because the money they pay for lodging constitutes a gift to the president from a foreign government. Such gifts to the president are prohibited unless they are approved by Congress.

It also alleges that local businesses suffer because important foreign visitors may opt to stay at a Trump property as a means of currying favor with the president.

The president’s legal representatives have three weeks to respond.

A New York court dismissed a similar case in December, saying the issue brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics was something Congress ought to address, rather than the courts.

That case was appealed in February.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Associated Press in February that this is the first time anyone has tried to sue a president as an individual for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

When Trump took office, he failed to divest himself completely from his business interests, but handed over control of the businesses to his adult children.

Trump Issued Summons for Lawsuit on Possible Constitutional Violation

U.S. President Donald Trump has been issued a summons by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and the neighboring state of Maryland, alleging his business activities are violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The summons issued earlier this week is addressed to Trump in both “his official capacity and his individual capacity.”

The lawsuit alleges that representatives from foreign governments who stay at Trump’s hotels constitute a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution because the money they pay for lodging constitutes a gift to the president from a foreign government. Such gifts to the president are prohibited unless they are approved by Congress.

It also alleges that local businesses suffer because important foreign visitors may opt to stay at a Trump property as a means of currying favor with the president.

The president’s legal representatives have three weeks to respond.

A New York court dismissed a similar case in December, saying the issue brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics was something Congress ought to address, rather than the courts.

That case was appealed in February.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Associated Press in February that this is the first time anyone has tried to sue a president as an individual for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

When Trump took office, he failed to divest himself completely from his business interests, but handed over control of the businesses to his adult children.

Son of US Professor Detained by North Korea Hopes Summit Will See Father Released

The son of a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea is hoping against hope that his father will be released in conjunction with the unexpected summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’m thankful that President Trump is going to have this summit. I’m thankful for his work and what he’s doing. I’m hoping the issue of my dad and other detainees would be brought up,” said Sol Kim in an interview with Voice of America’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

His father, Kim Sang Duk, whose American name is Tony Kim, has been detained in North Korea since April 22, 2017 when he was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport. North Korean state media reported that Kim had been arrested for “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the country and he was held in custody pending a “detailed investigation into his crime.”

Last week’s surprise Stockholm meeting between North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his Swedish counterpart, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, set off speculation that Sweden would be a possible location for the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

The meeting also brought the issue of Tony Kim and two other Americans to the fore as Sweden is thought to be negotiating with North Korea for release of the U.S. detainees. Sweden has maintained relations with North Korea since 1973 and is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang. It provides consular services for the U.S. in North Korea.  

However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Wednesday “there’s nothing under way” although seeking the detainees release is “a high priority for this administration.”   

Sol Kim said he has not heard anything from the State Department about his father’s possible return.

Sol Kim and his family members and friends have been sending letters to Tony Kim via the State Department, hoping that, somehow, the letters would wind up with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for delivery.

“But I think the letters have not gone [to him] … We just don’t know,” Sol Kim said.

Accountant turned professor

Tony Kim, a former accountant turned professor, had been in North Korea teaching international finance and management to students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the only private university in the country. 

He also taught at PUST’s affiliate institution in China, the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji, for more than 15 years. While at the Yanbian University, the 59-year-old professor made numerous trips to North Korea to teach at PUST after it opened in 2010.

PUST was founded by an evangelical Christian and funded from outside North Korea after the regime authorized the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture to establish PUST. The school has more than sixty foreign faculty members from China, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and other European countries, according to its website.

Sol Kim, a 27-year-old graduate student in Southern California, visited North Korea as his father”s teaching assistant.

“I got to see students study. … I got to spend time playing sports after class time. We’d eat and share meals together,” Sol Kim said. “They were very curious. They worked hard. It was a positive experience.”

The Olympics thaw

Sol Kim began speaking out about getting his dad released as tensions began thawing on the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics.

When he heard about the summit between the U.S. and North Korea, Sol Kim ramped up his efforts to get his father released. He talks to the State Department every week. He’s posted on YouTube and launched #USA3.

“I think the response was good. I don’t know how many people read but people would repost or retweet, sharing with their friends,” said Sol Kim.

“They are encouraging for me. I’m not … doing this to get millions and millions of views,” he said. “But the fact that people took the time to share and hear the messages … was encouraging.”

Sol Kim has messages for his father, ones he hopes reach the elder Kim … somehow: “We miss him a lot. I love him. We want him to know that he’ll be becoming a grandpa soon. I look forward to seeing him again.”

The last time he had word of his father was when Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy who retired early this month, visited North Korea in June 2017 to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died shortly after his release in a comatose state. Warmbier’s death prompted Trump to issue a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea. 

Two other U.S. citizens, all ethnic Koreans  Kim Hak Song and Kim Dong Chul are also detained in North Korea on charges of conducting anti-state activities to overthrow the North Korean government.

Christy Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.

Son of US Professor Detained by North Korea Hopes Summit Will See Father Released

The son of a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea is hoping against hope that his father will be released in conjunction with the unexpected summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’m thankful that President Trump is going to have this summit. I’m thankful for his work and what he’s doing. I’m hoping the issue of my dad and other detainees would be brought up,” said Sol Kim in an interview with Voice of America’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

His father, Kim Sang Duk, whose American name is Tony Kim, has been detained in North Korea since April 22, 2017 when he was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport. North Korean state media reported that Kim had been arrested for “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the country and he was held in custody pending a “detailed investigation into his crime.”

Last week’s surprise Stockholm meeting between North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his Swedish counterpart, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, set off speculation that Sweden would be a possible location for the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

The meeting also brought the issue of Tony Kim and two other Americans to the fore as Sweden is thought to be negotiating with North Korea for release of the U.S. detainees. Sweden has maintained relations with North Korea since 1973 and is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang. It provides consular services for the U.S. in North Korea.  

However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Wednesday “there’s nothing under way” although seeking the detainees release is “a high priority for this administration.”   

Sol Kim said he has not heard anything from the State Department about his father’s possible return.

Sol Kim and his family members and friends have been sending letters to Tony Kim via the State Department, hoping that, somehow, the letters would wind up with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for delivery.

“But I think the letters have not gone [to him] … We just don’t know,” Sol Kim said.

Accountant turned professor

Tony Kim, a former accountant turned professor, had been in North Korea teaching international finance and management to students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the only private university in the country. 

He also taught at PUST’s affiliate institution in China, the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji, for more than 15 years. While at the Yanbian University, the 59-year-old professor made numerous trips to North Korea to teach at PUST after it opened in 2010.

PUST was founded by an evangelical Christian and funded from outside North Korea after the regime authorized the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture to establish PUST. The school has more than sixty foreign faculty members from China, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and other European countries, according to its website.

Sol Kim, a 27-year-old graduate student in Southern California, visited North Korea as his father”s teaching assistant.

“I got to see students study. … I got to spend time playing sports after class time. We’d eat and share meals together,” Sol Kim said. “They were very curious. They worked hard. It was a positive experience.”

The Olympics thaw

Sol Kim began speaking out about getting his dad released as tensions began thawing on the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics.

When he heard about the summit between the U.S. and North Korea, Sol Kim ramped up his efforts to get his father released. He talks to the State Department every week. He’s posted on YouTube and launched #USA3.

“I think the response was good. I don’t know how many people read but people would repost or retweet, sharing with their friends,” said Sol Kim.

“They are encouraging for me. I’m not … doing this to get millions and millions of views,” he said. “But the fact that people took the time to share and hear the messages … was encouraging.”

Sol Kim has messages for his father, ones he hopes reach the elder Kim … somehow: “We miss him a lot. I love him. We want him to know that he’ll be becoming a grandpa soon. I look forward to seeing him again.”

The last time he had word of his father was when Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy who retired early this month, visited North Korea in June 2017 to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died shortly after his release in a comatose state. Warmbier’s death prompted Trump to issue a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea. 

Two other U.S. citizens, all ethnic Koreans  Kim Hak Song and Kim Dong Chul are also detained in North Korea on charges of conducting anti-state activities to overthrow the North Korean government.

Christy Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.

Analysts Outline Goals for All Sides in Proposed US-North Korea Summit

A proposed U.S.-North Korea summit is, for now, just that: a proposal. On this week’s edition of VOA’s “Plugged In With Greta Van Susteren,” analysts say that while the logistics and timing of talks are up in the air, so is the definition of real progress for all sides involved. VOA’s Robert Raffaele has more.

US Elections Face Continued Cyberthreats

U.S. officials conceded more work needs to be done to protect elections in America from continuing Russian cyberthreats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Capitol Hill, where current and former Homeland Security secretaries testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

US Elections Face Continued Cyberthreats

U.S. officials conceded more work needs to be done to protect elections in America from continuing Russian cyberthreats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Capitol Hill, where current and former Homeland Security secretaries testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Facebook Under Fire for Data Misuse

Facebook is coming under intense criticism following reports that information from 50 million users was gathered by a voter data firm. Lawmakers are demanding answers, and Facebook stock has lost about $35 billion in its value. Michelle Quinn reports on the threats the company faces.

Facebook Under Fire for Data Misuse

Facebook is coming under intense criticism following reports that information from 50 million users was gathered by a voter data firm. Lawmakers are demanding answers, and Facebook stock has lost about $35 billion in its value. Michelle Quinn reports on the threats the company faces.

White House Defends Trumps Phone Call to Putin

The White House has defended U.S. President Donald Trump’s phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his election victory. The call early Tuesday coincided with the announcement by a Senate panel that a careful investigation showed Russia had meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Trump made no mention of the finding Tuesday but rather spoke of the need to meet with Putin to discuss important global issues. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

White House Defends Trumps Phone Call to Putin

The White House has defended U.S. President Donald Trump’s phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his election victory. The call early Tuesday coincided with the announcement by a Senate panel that a careful investigation showed Russia had meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Trump made no mention of the finding Tuesday but rather spoke of the need to meet with Putin to discuss important global issues. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

Amid Political Turmoil, Republicans Warn Trump Not to Fire Mueller

Political turmoil continues to swirl around President Donald Trump. In recent days, Trump has stepped up his criticism of the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. This comes in the wake of last week’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a congressional loss in Pennsylvania that could portend a Democratic wave in the November midterm elections. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Activity by Violent Latino Gang MS 13 Rising Across US

When making a case for reinforcing the U.S. southern border, President Donald Trump sometimes points to MS-13, the violent Latino gang whose members include some undocumented immigrants as well as homegrown Americans. Some 40 states report rising activity by the gang, especially in poor Hispanic immigrant communities. Cristina Caicedo Smit reports.

Senate Intelligence Committee Launches Campaign to Prevent US Election Hacking

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recommended Tuesday that Congress “urgently pass” legislation to bolster federal help to states that are trying to prevent their election systems from being hacked as they were in 2016.

New legislation is included in the committee’s initial draft of recommendations to prevent more hacking of U.S. elections. The recommendations are included in the committee’s initial findings after spending more than a year investigating Russian attempts to target U.S. voting systems during the 2016 campaign.

The recommendations also call on the Department of Homeland Security to develop channels of communication between federal, state and local officials, and that Washington “clearly communicate” that attacks on elections are hostile and appropriate agencies should “respond accordingly.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said Russian agents targeted the election systems in 21 states before the November 2016 election and separately engaged in a social media campaign that was designed to create confusion and fuel social discord. U.S. intelligence agencies have said, however, there is no evidence the 2016 hacks affected election results, although they have concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Republican U.S. President Donald Trump get elected. Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the campaign and Trump insists there was no collusion.

Intelligence officials have repeatedly warned they expect Russia or others to attempt to interfere in the November 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

“We are here to express concerns but also confidence in our state and local governments,” said Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting what is widely viewed as the least partisan out of the three primary congressional probes of Russia’s meddling in 2016.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating Russia’s activities in 2016, as well as looking into the possibility of collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump associates.

Senate Intelligence Committee Launches Campaign to Prevent US Election Hacking

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recommended Tuesday that Congress “urgently pass” legislation to bolster federal help to states that are trying to prevent their election systems from being hacked as they were in 2016.

New legislation is included in the committee’s initial draft of recommendations to prevent more hacking of U.S. elections. The recommendations are included in the committee’s initial findings after spending more than a year investigating Russian attempts to target U.S. voting systems during the 2016 campaign.

The recommendations also call on the Department of Homeland Security to develop channels of communication between federal, state and local officials, and that Washington “clearly communicate” that attacks on elections are hostile and appropriate agencies should “respond accordingly.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said Russian agents targeted the election systems in 21 states before the November 2016 election and separately engaged in a social media campaign that was designed to create confusion and fuel social discord. U.S. intelligence agencies have said, however, there is no evidence the 2016 hacks affected election results, although they have concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Republican U.S. President Donald Trump get elected. Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the campaign and Trump insists there was no collusion.

Intelligence officials have repeatedly warned they expect Russia or others to attempt to interfere in the November 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

“We are here to express concerns but also confidence in our state and local governments,” said Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting what is widely viewed as the least partisan out of the three primary congressional probes of Russia’s meddling in 2016.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating Russia’s activities in 2016, as well as looking into the possibility of collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump associates.

Alabama Lawmakers to Debate Arming Teachers in School

The Alabama House of Representatives will debate on Tuesday whether teachers can carry guns on campus. The latest push for school security proposed by Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth would allow designated teachers or school administrators approved by local law enforcement to carry firearms in school. Parents wouldn’t know which educators carry for security reasons. 

The bill passed in a tight committee vote last week after contentious debate during a public hearing. It’s one of multiple gun-related bills introduced in the Alabama legislature after the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

Lawmakers in at least ten other states have also proposed arming teachers or school employees. Florida passed a school safety and gun control law that included arming teachers three weeks after the Parkland massacre.

Senator: Pompeo to Face Tough Questions on N. Korea, Iran

The Republican who heads the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will face tough questions on North Korea and Iran if he is to be confirmed in the role.

“There are going to be some tough issues he’s going to have to navigate, like Iran, like North Korea, numbers of things, and I’m planning to talk with him privately about those,” Senator Bob Corker said ahead of a meeting with Pompeo, the current CIA director.

Corker said the meeting was his “beginning assessment” of Trump loyalist Pompeo, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives before moving to the CIA. After the meeting, Corker said he had been “very, very impressed.”

Corker said he could not predict whether the 21-member panel would back Pompeo at his nomination hearing, which could take place as soon as April 12. One of the committee’s 11 Republicans, Senator Rand Paul, has already announced his opposition over issues including his concern that Pompeo would support war with Iran.

Although Pompeo was backed by two-thirds of the Senate early last year when Trump nominated him to lead the CIA, his confirmation this time could be more complicated.

Even if he is approved by the committee – or if Senate leaders bring his nomination up for a vote without its approval – Republicans hold only a 51-49 Senate majority in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats have said it is too early to predict how they will vote on Pompeo before they meet with him or hold his hearing.

Earlier on Monday, Pompeo met with outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department.

It was the first meeting between Pompeo and Tillerson since Trump’s decision to fire the former Exxon Mobil CEO last week following a series of rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran, a U.S. official said.

Senator: Pompeo to Face Tough Questions on N. Korea, Iran

The Republican who heads the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will face tough questions on North Korea and Iran if he is to be confirmed in the role.

“There are going to be some tough issues he’s going to have to navigate, like Iran, like North Korea, numbers of things, and I’m planning to talk with him privately about those,” Senator Bob Corker said ahead of a meeting with Pompeo, the current CIA director.

Corker said the meeting was his “beginning assessment” of Trump loyalist Pompeo, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives before moving to the CIA. After the meeting, Corker said he had been “very, very impressed.”

Corker said he could not predict whether the 21-member panel would back Pompeo at his nomination hearing, which could take place as soon as April 12. One of the committee’s 11 Republicans, Senator Rand Paul, has already announced his opposition over issues including his concern that Pompeo would support war with Iran.

Although Pompeo was backed by two-thirds of the Senate early last year when Trump nominated him to lead the CIA, his confirmation this time could be more complicated.

Even if he is approved by the committee – or if Senate leaders bring his nomination up for a vote without its approval – Republicans hold only a 51-49 Senate majority in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats have said it is too early to predict how they will vote on Pompeo before they meet with him or hold his hearing.

Earlier on Monday, Pompeo met with outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department.

It was the first meeting between Pompeo and Tillerson since Trump’s decision to fire the former Exxon Mobil CEO last week following a series of rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran, a U.S. official said.

New York Councilman Investigating Kushner Real Estate Company

A New York City councilman and a tenants’ rights group said they will investigate allegations that the real estate company formerly controlled by Jared Kushner, a presidential adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, falsified building permits.

In allegations first uncovered by The Associated Press, the Kushner Companies is accused of submitting false statements between 2013 and 2016, stating it had no rent-controlled apartments in buildings it owned when it actually had hundreds.

Rent-controlled apartments come under tighter oversight from city officials when there is construction work or renovations in buildings. 

The councilman and tenants’ rights group charged the Kushner Companies of lying about rent-control in order to harass and force out tenants paying low rents so it can move in those who would pay more.

They also blame city officials for allegedly being unaware what Kushner was up to.

Rent control is a fixture in many big U.S. cities, where the government regulates rent to help make housing more affordable.

Some tenants in Kushner-owned buildings told the AP that the landlord made their lives a “living hell,” with loud construction noise, drilling, dust and leaking water. They said they believe they were part of a campaign of targeted harassment by the Kushner Companies to get them to leave.

The company denies intentionally falsifying documents in an effort to harass tenants. In a news release Monday, the company called the investigation an effort to “create an issue where none exists.”

“If mistakes or typographical errors are identified, corrective action is taken immediately with no financial benefit to the company,” it said.

The company also said it contracted out the preparation of such documents to a third party and that the faulty paperwork was amended. 

Kushner stepped down as head of his family’s company before becoming presidential adviser. But the AP said he still has a financial stake in a number of properties.

New York Councilman Investigating Kushner Real Estate Company

A New York City councilman and a tenants’ rights group said they will investigate allegations that the real estate company formerly controlled by Jared Kushner, a presidential adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, falsified building permits.

In allegations first uncovered by The Associated Press, the Kushner Companies is accused of submitting false statements between 2013 and 2016, stating it had no rent-controlled apartments in buildings it owned when it actually had hundreds.

Rent-controlled apartments come under tighter oversight from city officials when there is construction work or renovations in buildings. 

The councilman and tenants’ rights group charged the Kushner Companies of lying about rent-control in order to harass and force out tenants paying low rents so it can move in those who would pay more.

They also blame city officials for allegedly being unaware what Kushner was up to.

Rent control is a fixture in many big U.S. cities, where the government regulates rent to help make housing more affordable.

Some tenants in Kushner-owned buildings told the AP that the landlord made their lives a “living hell,” with loud construction noise, drilling, dust and leaking water. They said they believe they were part of a campaign of targeted harassment by the Kushner Companies to get them to leave.

The company denies intentionally falsifying documents in an effort to harass tenants. In a news release Monday, the company called the investigation an effort to “create an issue where none exists.”

“If mistakes or typographical errors are identified, corrective action is taken immediately with no financial benefit to the company,” it said.

The company also said it contracted out the preparation of such documents to a third party and that the faulty paperwork was amended. 

Kushner stepped down as head of his family’s company before becoming presidential adviser. But the AP said he still has a financial stake in a number of properties.

US Supreme Court Rejects Republican Challenge to Pennsylvania Congressional Map 

The Democrats’ chances of winning back the U.S. House got a boost Monday when the Supreme Court and a separate panel of federal judges rejected Republican efforts to block newly re-drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

This means the November Congressional election in Pennsylvania will likely favor Democrats over Republicans.

The Supreme Court rejected the Republican challenge without comment. 

The federal judges in Pennsylvania said they had no authority to make a ruling because it was a matter for the state legislature. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in December that the old congressional map was unconstitutional because lawmakers deliberately drew it up to hurt Democrats. 

The court ordered the legislature to redraw the map. When it missed  the deadline for submitting a new plan, the court came up with its own map that analysts say would likely help Democrats.

Democrats need to win just 23 seats in this November’s election to take back control of the 435-member House of Representatives from the Republicans.

Last week, Democratic candidate Conor Lamb won a stunning upset over his Republican challenger in a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district — a district that has been in Republican hands since 2003 — which President Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

US Supreme Court Rejects Republican Challenge to Pennsylvania Congressional Map 

The Democrats’ chances of winning back the U.S. House got a boost Monday when the Supreme Court and a separate panel of federal judges rejected Republican efforts to block newly re-drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

This means the November Congressional election in Pennsylvania will likely favor Democrats over Republicans.

The Supreme Court rejected the Republican challenge without comment. 

The federal judges in Pennsylvania said they had no authority to make a ruling because it was a matter for the state legislature. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in December that the old congressional map was unconstitutional because lawmakers deliberately drew it up to hurt Democrats. 

The court ordered the legislature to redraw the map. When it missed  the deadline for submitting a new plan, the court came up with its own map that analysts say would likely help Democrats.

Democrats need to win just 23 seats in this November’s election to take back control of the 435-member House of Representatives from the Republicans.

Last week, Democratic candidate Conor Lamb won a stunning upset over his Republican challenger in a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district — a district that has been in Republican hands since 2003 — which President Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

White House Denies Trump Planning to Fire Special Counsel

Despite intensifying criticism from the president, the White House is denying Donald Trump intends to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a criminal investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s links to Russia.

“There are no conversations or discussions about removing Mr. Mueller,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Monday on Air Force One.

The spokesman acknowledged the president’s “well-established frustration” with the criminal investigation into whether Trump’s  campaign had improper contacts with the Russians.

“The president believes this is the biggest witch hunt in history,” Gidley said, echoing a tweet Trump issued earlier in the day.

In the tweets, Trump for the first time publicly attacked Mueller’s investigation, and accused James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of political bias.

The targeting of Mueller on social media by Trump has raised concern the president could remove him, which could prompt a constitutional crisis for the United States, according to some lawmakers, legal analysts and presidential historians.

In a tweet to members of Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said, “If the President causes a constitutional crisis by firing Mueller, no one can credibly claim that they could not see it coming. The time to speak out, to defend our system of checks and balances, is now.”

Three Democratic Party U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Michael Bennet (Colorado) and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) in recent days have also warned of such a crisis if the president attempts to shut down the special counsel’s investigation.

Some prominent Republican lawmakers were cautioning the president not to take such action.

“Leave it alone,” was Sen. Orrin Hatch’s advice to Trump.

“He has the right to do it, but it would be tremendously bad publicity,” the Republican from the state of Utah said in response Monday to a question from VOA News. “And it’s not worth it. I mean, Mueller is an honest man. If he were doing things that are dishonest or improper, that’s another matter. But he hasn’t been.”

The second-highest ranking Republican in the senate, John Cornyn of Texas, agreed it would be a “mistake” for Trump to fire Mueller as it “would produce all sorts of unintended consequences.”

Reporters on the White House South Lawn shouted questions about the special counsel at Trump on Monday as he departed and returned on the Marine One helicopter, but he did not answer.

Trump also made no reference to the investigation during a speech in the state of New Hampshire about combating the opioid crisis in America.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers have given the special counsel’s office written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation, in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, according to The Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the situation.

Trump’s attorneys, according to the Post, are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims, would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview.

In one tweet Sunday recalling his 2016 election victory against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump said, “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added … does anyone think this is fair?  And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Mueller has been a registered Republican and was named FBI director in 2001 by Republican President George W. Bush.

Mueller is generally viewed in Washington as an apolitical prosecutor, whose investigation of the Trump campaign is supported by Democrats and key Republicans, some of whom voiced their support on Sunday news shows for his handling of the probe.

 

On Saturday, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, suggested that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel, “bring an end” to Mueller’s investigation, resulting in media speculation about Trump’s next move regarding the probe.

 

Trump also attacked Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, and former deputy director Andrew McCabe, dismissed at Trump’s urging late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 26 hours before McCabe was set to retire and collect his full pension.

 

Trump contends that Comey’s and McCabe’s personal written recollections of their conversations with him are fabricated.

VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this story.

Trump Fumes Over Special Counsel Mueller’s Probe

Intrigue and uproar has spiked yet again in Washington regarding the Russia probe, with renewed questions arising about the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, days after the FBI’s deputy director was fired, U.S. lawmakers are warning President Donald Trump against any intention he may have to instigate Mueller’s dismissal.