Trump Unleashes New Attacks Against Democrats and News Media

U.S. President Donald Trump unleashed new attacks Sunday on two of his favorite targets, opposition Democrats and the national news media.

In one of a string of Twitter comments, the U.S. leader contended that Democratic lawmakers were continuing “to obstruct the confirmation of hundreds of good and talented people who are needed to run our government.” He said there is a record number of vacancies in the State Department.

“Ambassadors and many others are being slow walked” in the confirmation process, he said. “Senate must approve NOW!”

However, 13 months into his presidency, Trump has failed to nominate officials to fill key openings, including his ambassador to South Korea, even though he has agreed to meet by May with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the possible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. There has been a wave of retirements among State Department officials, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left top positions unfilled.

Trump complained about the national news media’s reports on polls showing him with “somewhat low” voter approval ratings, while he said they underplay the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports poll showing him “at around 50%.”

“They know they are lying when they say it. Turn off the show — FAKE NEWS!” Trump said.

The Rasmussen tracking survey on Friday actually showed voters disapproving of his White House performance by a 54-44 percent margin, not much better than Real Clear Politics’s national average of polls giving Trump a negative 53.7-40.9 standing.

Trump claimed news reports have failed to report a 5-0 Republican run of victories in special elections for seats in the House of Representatives since he took office, when the actual number is 5-1, and Republicans lost a Senate seat in Alabama to a Democrat for the first time in 25 years.

Trump also attacked a story in the “failing New York Times” about his possible hiring of another attorney to bolster his response to the ongoing criminal investigation of possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. He described one of the writers of the story, Maggie Haberman, as “a Hillary flunky (who) knows nothing about me and is not given access.”

Trump Touts Tariffs at Rally for Embattled Pennsylvania Republican

President Donald Trump said Saturday that his controversial tariffs would bring back the U.S. steel industry, as he campaigned in Pennsylvania steel country for a Republican congressional candidate in a tight race.

Trump’s appearance was aimed at helping Republican Rick Saccone in a district Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016 as part of a narrow win in Pennsylvania.

Trump spent a lot of time talking about his own fortunes in a “Make America Great Again” rally for Saccone in an airport hangar at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Economic boost forecast

A day after getting news that the U.S. economy produced 313,000 jobs last month, Trump said his policies were paying off. He said 25 percent tariffs on steel imports would help boost Pennsylvania’s economy.

Critics say the tariffs could trigger retaliatory trade measures and damage the U.S. economy. There are also doubts about how far Trump’s policies will go toward resuscitating the battered American steel industry.

“Your steel is coming back. It’s all coming back,” Trump told several thousand cheering supporters.

Trump vowed to fight any retaliatory trade measures by, for example, slapping taxes on imported European cars.

Trump also said he hoped to run against Oprah Winfrey, although the entertainer has ruled out a run despite pressure on her to seek the presidency.

“I’d love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness,” said Trump, without giving details.

Saccone is trying to win an election Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 18th District to replace Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned last fall while enmeshed in a sex scandal.

Close race

Saccone is competing against Democrat Conor Lamb, and polls show a close race. Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway campaigned for Saccone on Thursday at a Lincoln Day dinner in Allegheny County.

A Saccone loss would be a blow to Trump, the first loss by Republicans of a seat in the House of Representatives since he took office in January 2017.

The results will not affect Republican control of the chamber.

The race could signal how much help Trump can provide Republican congressional candidates trying to keep control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in midterm elections next November.

Typically the party that controls the White House loses seats in the U.S. Congress in the first election after a new president takes office. But Trump hopes a strong economy and tax cuts he pushed through Congress in December will help him beat the odds. 

Trump Touts Tariffs at Rally for Embattled Pennsylvania Republican

President Donald Trump said Saturday that his controversial tariffs would bring back the U.S. steel industry, as he campaigned in Pennsylvania steel country for a Republican congressional candidate in a tight race.

Trump’s appearance was aimed at helping Republican Rick Saccone in a district Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016 as part of a narrow win in Pennsylvania.

Trump spent a lot of time talking about his own fortunes in a “Make America Great Again” rally for Saccone in an airport hangar at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Economic boost forecast

A day after getting news that the U.S. economy produced 313,000 jobs last month, Trump said his policies were paying off. He said 25 percent tariffs on steel imports would help boost Pennsylvania’s economy.

Critics say the tariffs could trigger retaliatory trade measures and damage the U.S. economy. There are also doubts about how far Trump’s policies will go toward resuscitating the battered American steel industry.

“Your steel is coming back. It’s all coming back,” Trump told several thousand cheering supporters.

Trump vowed to fight any retaliatory trade measures by, for example, slapping taxes on imported European cars.

Trump also said he hoped to run against Oprah Winfrey, although the entertainer has ruled out a run despite pressure on her to seek the presidency.

“I’d love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness,” said Trump, without giving details.

Saccone is trying to win an election Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 18th District to replace Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned last fall while enmeshed in a sex scandal.

Close race

Saccone is competing against Democrat Conor Lamb, and polls show a close race. Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway campaigned for Saccone on Thursday at a Lincoln Day dinner in Allegheny County.

A Saccone loss would be a blow to Trump, the first loss by Republicans of a seat in the House of Representatives since he took office in January 2017.

The results will not affect Republican control of the chamber.

The race could signal how much help Trump can provide Republican congressional candidates trying to keep control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in midterm elections next November.

Typically the party that controls the White House loses seats in the U.S. Congress in the first election after a new president takes office. But Trump hopes a strong economy and tax cuts he pushed through Congress in December will help him beat the odds. 

Putin ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ if Russians Meddled in US Election

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, insisting that the Kremlin had nothing to do with the efforts.

“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin asked in an often-combative interview with NBC News aired late Friday.

U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller last month indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies and charged them with running a social-media campaign to sow political divisions in the United States and help Donald Trump win the presidency.

“So what if they’re Russians?” Putin told NBC. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? I don’t care. I couldn’t care less…. They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”

Putin said that the indicted individuals are “not working for the government” and suggested instead, “Perhaps some of them worked for one of the candidates.” 

The most well-known of the Russians indicted, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has ties to Putin and the state. Prigozhin is accused of funneling money into the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which is often described as a notorious “troll factory” and which is also named in the indictment.

Despite Mueller’s 37-page indictment detailing charges against the Russians, Putin said he has seen no evidence that their actions broke any law. He was emphatic that he would never extradite the suspects to the United States to face trial.

“We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said.

Putin rejected allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the election, despite the conclusion last year by U.S. intelligence agencies that he personally directed a campaign to do so in 2016.

“Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away…influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous, even to you?” Putin asked NBC interviewer Megyn Kelly.

“It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering,” Putin said.

The U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that in addition to aiding Trump, for whom they said the Kremlin had developed a clear preference, Russia’s aims included undermining faith in the U.S. electoral system and denigrating Trump’s main rival, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the campaign, Clinton signaled that she would be tough on Russia over actions such as its interference in Ukraine, and Putin’s relationship with the former secretary of state has been marked by sometimes palpable tension. As he prepared to return to the presidency in 2012 after a stint as prime minister, Putin accused Clinton of fomenting anti-government protests in Russia.

Last month, U.S. intelligence chiefs said Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. politics are continuing unabated and pose a threat to midterm congressional elections in November.

Trump himself has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia over the alleged meddling and has said that he admires Putin as a strong leader.

Putin suggested in the interview that the reason Trump has seemed deferential to him is he knew upon taking office that he needed to develop a “cooperative relationship” with Russia and thus he needed to treat his counterpart with respect.

On another issue, Putin told NBC he has no plans to change the Russian Constitution to eliminate term limits on his presidency.

“I have never changed the constitution. I have no such plans today,” he said.

Some material for this article came from AFP.

Putin ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ if Russians Meddled in US Election

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, insisting that the Kremlin had nothing to do with the efforts.

“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin asked in an often-combative interview with NBC News aired late Friday.

U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller last month indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies and charged them with running a social-media campaign to sow political divisions in the United States and help Donald Trump win the presidency.

“So what if they’re Russians?” Putin told NBC. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? I don’t care. I couldn’t care less…. They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”

Putin said that the indicted individuals are “not working for the government” and suggested instead, “Perhaps some of them worked for one of the candidates.” 

The most well-known of the Russians indicted, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has ties to Putin and the state. Prigozhin is accused of funneling money into the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which is often described as a notorious “troll factory” and which is also named in the indictment.

Despite Mueller’s 37-page indictment detailing charges against the Russians, Putin said he has seen no evidence that their actions broke any law. He was emphatic that he would never extradite the suspects to the United States to face trial.

“We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said.

Putin rejected allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the election, despite the conclusion last year by U.S. intelligence agencies that he personally directed a campaign to do so in 2016.

“Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away…influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous, even to you?” Putin asked NBC interviewer Megyn Kelly.

“It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering,” Putin said.

The U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that in addition to aiding Trump, for whom they said the Kremlin had developed a clear preference, Russia’s aims included undermining faith in the U.S. electoral system and denigrating Trump’s main rival, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the campaign, Clinton signaled that she would be tough on Russia over actions such as its interference in Ukraine, and Putin’s relationship with the former secretary of state has been marked by sometimes palpable tension. As he prepared to return to the presidency in 2012 after a stint as prime minister, Putin accused Clinton of fomenting anti-government protests in Russia.

Last month, U.S. intelligence chiefs said Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. politics are continuing unabated and pose a threat to midterm congressional elections in November.

Trump himself has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia over the alleged meddling and has said that he admires Putin as a strong leader.

Putin suggested in the interview that the reason Trump has seemed deferential to him is he knew upon taking office that he needed to develop a “cooperative relationship” with Russia and thus he needed to treat his counterpart with respect.

On another issue, Putin told NBC he has no plans to change the Russian Constitution to eliminate term limits on his presidency.

“I have never changed the constitution. I have no such plans today,” he said.

Some material for this article came from AFP.

Tillerson: Political Reconciliation in Kenya ‘a Very Positive Step’

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the political reconciliation between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga is “a very positive step,” adding that the United States supports Kenya’s political inclusion and democracy. Tillerson’s trip to Africa is his first as the top U.S. diplomat and promotes good governance, something high on his agenda. VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching reports from Nairobi, Kenya.

Tillerson: Political Reconciliation in Kenya ‘a Very Positive Step’

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the political reconciliation between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga is “a very positive step,” adding that the United States supports Kenya’s political inclusion and democracy. Tillerson’s trip to Africa is his first as the top U.S. diplomat and promotes good governance, something high on his agenda. VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching reports from Nairobi, Kenya.

NRA Files Lawsuit Over Florida Gun Control Legislation

The National Rifle Association (NRA), a U.S. gun rights group, is suing the state of Florida for enacting gun control legislation that raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21.

Lawyers for the NRA are asking a federal judge to block the new age restriction, arguing that it violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican long allied with the NRA, signed the legislation earlier Friday after the Republican-controlled statehouse narrowly approved the measure.

The NRA insisted that the measure “punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual.”

In addition to the new age restriction, the Florida bill also adds a three-day waiting period to buy long guns, which was previously only for handguns. It also bans bump stocks, a device that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.

The law also creates a so-called “guardian” program that enables school staff to carry handguns if they wish and if they complete law enforcement training.

The legislation comes three weeks after a shooter killed 17 people at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“What I’m proud of in this state is that we reacted to a horrible situation,” Scott said after signing the bill Friday. He said the bill represents a compromise for people on both sides of the gun debate and balances “our individual rights with need for public safety.”

Student activists had campaigned for even tougher gun control restrictions, including a ban on assault-style weapons, which was not included in the final bill.

Authorities say the accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was 18 years old when he legally purchased the AR-15 assault-style rifle used in the massacre.

The NRA, which claims 5 million members, is one of the country’s most powerful lobbying groups for gun rights. Founded in 1871, it seeks to educate the public about firearms and defend U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights. It has directly lobbied for and against legislation since 1975.

NRA Files Lawsuit Over Florida Gun Control Legislation

The National Rifle Association (NRA), a U.S. gun rights group, is suing the state of Florida for enacting gun control legislation that raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21.

Lawyers for the NRA are asking a federal judge to block the new age restriction, arguing that it violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican long allied with the NRA, signed the legislation earlier Friday after the Republican-controlled statehouse narrowly approved the measure.

The NRA insisted that the measure “punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual.”

In addition to the new age restriction, the Florida bill also adds a three-day waiting period to buy long guns, which was previously only for handguns. It also bans bump stocks, a device that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.

The law also creates a so-called “guardian” program that enables school staff to carry handguns if they wish and if they complete law enforcement training.

The legislation comes three weeks after a shooter killed 17 people at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“What I’m proud of in this state is that we reacted to a horrible situation,” Scott said after signing the bill Friday. He said the bill represents a compromise for people on both sides of the gun debate and balances “our individual rights with need for public safety.”

Student activists had campaigned for even tougher gun control restrictions, including a ban on assault-style weapons, which was not included in the final bill.

Authorities say the accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was 18 years old when he legally purchased the AR-15 assault-style rifle used in the massacre.

The NRA, which claims 5 million members, is one of the country’s most powerful lobbying groups for gun rights. Founded in 1871, it seeks to educate the public about firearms and defend U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights. It has directly lobbied for and against legislation since 1975.

Tillerson Says N. Korea Talks Trump’s Idea, Downplays Exclusion of State Department

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is on the other side of the world on a week-long Africa tour, says President Donald Trump’s decision to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came from Trump himself, but he downplayed any suggestion that the State Department was blindsided by the announcement.

Speaking in Djibouti on Friday, the top U.S. diplomat said he spoke with the U.S. president by phone very early in the day.

“We had a good conversation; this is something he’s had on his mind for quite some time, so it was not a surprise in any way because I think this has long been something he’s expressed it openly before, about his willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un,” Tillerson told reporters.

Tillerson made his remarks one day after South Korean officials, standing in front of the White House, announced the summit between Trump and Kim. Tillerson sought to temper expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea just hours earlier on Thursday.

“In terms of direct talks with the United States — and you asked negotiations, and we’re a long ways from negotiations — I think … we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” Tillerson said.

When asked about what had changed in 24 hours, Tillerson made a distinction between “talks” with North Korea, and structured “negotiations.” Tillerson said what stood out for him was what he termed the dramatic shift in Kim Jong Un’s position.

“Really what changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way that, in all honesty, came as a little bit of a surprise to us as well that he was so forward-leaning in his conversations with the delegation from South Korea,” the secretary said, referring to meetings this past week between a delegation from South Korea and the North Koreans in the North’s capital, Pyongyang.

Some former national security officials say it’s likely Tillerson was unaware such an announcement could come from Trump.

“We can only assume this announcement took the secretary by surprise because, earlier in the day, he [Tillerson] told reporters the United States was “a long way” from negotiations,” said Jeff Prescott, a senior national security aide to former President Barack Obama, told VOA on Friday.

“The secretary being out of the loop would fit a pattern of an erratic foreign policy that lacks process and rigor,” he added.

A number of North Korea and arms control experts have also expressed surprise at the announcement, saying they welcome talks, but are also concerned about the stakes of such a high-profile meeting, set to happen by May.

 

Prescott says the Trump administration must do all it can to turn this potential opening into an opportunity to advance U.S. interests, not Kim’s.

“That objective has been made all the more difficult because this administration confronts today’s news with one hand tied behind its back,” the former Obama administration official said. “We have no ambassador in Seoul—not even a nominee—and no senior State Department official charged with overseeing the North Korean nuclear challenge.”

Robert Einhorn with the Brookings Institution welcomed news of the summit and that North Korea will suspend nuclear and missile tests while talks are underway. But the senior fellow for the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative said he has some reservations on the terms of such a summit.

“I am concerned by President Trump’s response to the invitation that he meet with Kim Jong Un — not that he agreed to meet but that he agreed to meet by May,” Einhorn said. “Such meetings have to be well prepared, and the president should have insisted on lower-level exploratory talks that could test North Korea’s seriousness before committing to a date.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce welcomed the summit announcement.

“Kim Jong Un’s desire to talk shows sanctions the administration has implemented are starting to work. We can pursue more diplomacy, as we keep applying pressure ounce by ounce,” the Republican lawmaker said Friday.

The ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, noted the president should rely on experts in other parts of his administration to carefully prepare for such a meeting.

 

“In the weeks before the summit, clear-eyed diplomacy and preparation will be vital, given the risks involved in such a high-stakes leaders meeting this early in a negotiation,” Schiff said in a statement. “It will require the president to rely on the expertise within the State Department, the intelligence community, and throughout the government, and not simply on his own estimation of his skills as a deal maker.'”

Former advisor to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state Aaron David Miller told VOA the Trump administration currently lacks the experts on North Korea to prepare for direct talks.

 

“Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said.

Tillerson Says N. Korea Talks Trump’s Idea, Downplays Exclusion of State Department

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is on the other side of the world on a week-long Africa tour, says President Donald Trump’s decision to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came from Trump himself, but he downplayed any suggestion that the State Department was blindsided by the announcement.

Speaking in Djibouti on Friday, the top U.S. diplomat said he spoke with the U.S. president by phone very early in the day.

“We had a good conversation; this is something he’s had on his mind for quite some time, so it was not a surprise in any way because I think this has long been something he’s expressed it openly before, about his willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un,” Tillerson told reporters.

Tillerson made his remarks one day after South Korean officials, standing in front of the White House, announced the summit between Trump and Kim. Tillerson sought to temper expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea just hours earlier on Thursday.

“In terms of direct talks with the United States — and you asked negotiations, and we’re a long ways from negotiations — I think … we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” Tillerson said.

When asked about what had changed in 24 hours, Tillerson made a distinction between “talks” with North Korea, and structured “negotiations.” Tillerson said what stood out for him was what he termed the dramatic shift in Kim Jong Un’s position.

“Really what changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way that, in all honesty, came as a little bit of a surprise to us as well that he was so forward-leaning in his conversations with the delegation from South Korea,” the secretary said, referring to meetings this past week between a delegation from South Korea and the North Koreans in the North’s capital, Pyongyang.

Some former national security officials say it’s likely Tillerson was unaware such an announcement could come from Trump.

“We can only assume this announcement took the secretary by surprise because, earlier in the day, he [Tillerson] told reporters the United States was “a long way” from negotiations,” said Jeff Prescott, a senior national security aide to former President Barack Obama, told VOA on Friday.

“The secretary being out of the loop would fit a pattern of an erratic foreign policy that lacks process and rigor,” he added.

A number of North Korea and arms control experts have also expressed surprise at the announcement, saying they welcome talks, but are also concerned about the stakes of such a high-profile meeting, set to happen by May.

 

Prescott says the Trump administration must do all it can to turn this potential opening into an opportunity to advance U.S. interests, not Kim’s.

“That objective has been made all the more difficult because this administration confronts today’s news with one hand tied behind its back,” the former Obama administration official said. “We have no ambassador in Seoul—not even a nominee—and no senior State Department official charged with overseeing the North Korean nuclear challenge.”

Robert Einhorn with the Brookings Institution welcomed news of the summit and that North Korea will suspend nuclear and missile tests while talks are underway. But the senior fellow for the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative said he has some reservations on the terms of such a summit.

“I am concerned by President Trump’s response to the invitation that he meet with Kim Jong Un — not that he agreed to meet but that he agreed to meet by May,” Einhorn said. “Such meetings have to be well prepared, and the president should have insisted on lower-level exploratory talks that could test North Korea’s seriousness before committing to a date.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce welcomed the summit announcement.

“Kim Jong Un’s desire to talk shows sanctions the administration has implemented are starting to work. We can pursue more diplomacy, as we keep applying pressure ounce by ounce,” the Republican lawmaker said Friday.

The ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, noted the president should rely on experts in other parts of his administration to carefully prepare for such a meeting.

 

“In the weeks before the summit, clear-eyed diplomacy and preparation will be vital, given the risks involved in such a high-stakes leaders meeting this early in a negotiation,” Schiff said in a statement. “It will require the president to rely on the expertise within the State Department, the intelligence community, and throughout the government, and not simply on his own estimation of his skills as a deal maker.'”

Former advisor to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state Aaron David Miller told VOA the Trump administration currently lacks the experts on North Korea to prepare for direct talks.

 

“Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said.

AP Analysis: NRA Donated $7.3 Million to Hundreds of Schools

The National Rifle Association has given more than $7 million in grants to hundreds of U.S. schools in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis, and few have shown any indication that they’ll follow the lead of businesses that are cutting ties with the group following last month’s massacre at a Florida high school.

Florida’s Broward County school district is believed to be the first to stop accepting NRA money after a gunman killed 17 people at one of its schools Feb. 14. The teen charged in the shooting had been on a school rifle team that received NRA funding.

Denver Public Schools followed Thursday, saying it will turn down several NRA grants that were to be awarded this year. But officials in many other districts say they have no plans to back away.

Shooting sports

The AP analysis of the NRA Foundation’s public tax records finds that about 500 schools received more than $7.3 million from 2010 through 2016, mostly through competitive grants meant to promote shooting sports. The grants have gone to a wide array of school programs, including the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, rifle teams, hunting safety courses and agriculture clubs.

“Whatever I think of the NRA, they’re providing legitimate educational services,” said Billy Townsend, a school board member in Florida’s Polk County district, whose JROTC programs received $33,000, primarily to buy air rifles. “If the NRA wanted to provide air rifles for our ROTC folks in the future, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

The grants awarded to schools are just a small share of the $61 million the NRA Foundation has given to a variety of local groups since 2010. But it has grown rapidly, increasing nearly fourfold from 2010 to 2014 in what some opponents say is a thinly veiled attempt to recruit the next generation of NRA members.

The NRA Foundation did not return calls seeking comment.

Broward announced Tuesday that it would no longer accept NRA grants, following more than a dozen major businesses that have split with the group in recent weeks. Companies including Delta Air Lines, MetLife insurance and the Hertz car agency have said they will no longer offer discounts to NRA members.

​Grants directed at youths

Annual reports from the pro-gun group say its grant program was started in 1992 and raises money through local Friends of NRA chapters. It says half the proceeds from local fundraisers go to local grants and half goes to the national organization. Tax records show roughly $19 million in grants going to the group’s Virginia headquarters in 2015 and in 2016.

Besides schools, other typical recipients include 4-H groups, which have received $12.2 million since 2010, Boy Scout troops and councils, which received $4 million, and private gun clubs. Overall, about half the grants go to programs directed at youths.

Nearly half of the 773 grants awarded to schools have gone to JROTC programs, which put students through a basic military curriculum and offer an array of small competitive clubs, like the rifle team at Broward’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But JROTC leaders say few students ultimately enlist in the military, and the primary goal is to teach students skills like discipline and leadership.

“The safety that we’re teaching, the good citizenship that we’re teaching here, those are the things you don’t hear about,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jim Flores, a JROTC instructor at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “The majority of people walk out of here awesome young men and women, respectful of authority, things of that nature. Not so much little tin soldiers.”

In some parts of the country, shooting clubs draw the same sort of following as any school sport. Bill Nolte, superintendent of the Haywood County district in North Carolina, says he still shows up at school sportsman’s club tourneys even though his son graduated. Starting in sixth grade, students can join the clubs to compete in shooting events, archery and orienteering. For many families, Nolte said, it’s just like any other weekend sports event.

“You take your lawn chair and your coffee in a thermos, and do much like you would do if you were going to a youth soccer or travel basketball or baseball event,” Nolte said, adding that NRA grants have helped buy firearms and ammunition and cover other costs that otherwise would fall to the parents. “We are constantly seeking revenue for sportsman’s club just like we do for cheerleading and track.”

Top grant recipients

Districts that tallied the largest sums of NRA money typically used it for JROTC programs, including $126,000 given to Albuquerque schools, $126,000 to Broward County and $125,000 to Anchorage, Alaska. The most awarded to a single district was $230,000, given to Roseville schools near Sacramento, California, which say much of the funding went toward ammunition and gear for trap-shooting teams.

Grants are often provided as equipment rather than cash, with schools given rifles, ammunition, safety gear and updates to shooting ranges. Nationally, about $1.3 million was provided as cash, while $6 million was provided through equipment, training and other costs.

Ron Severson, superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District, says no parents have raised concerns over the funding, but administrators may reconsider it in the wake of the Florida shooting.

“After we get through this spring, we will probably take some time to assess how to move forward,” he said.

Like the program, not the NRA

School board members in some districts said they didn’t know about the grants. Donna Corbett, a Democrat on the school board in southern Indiana’s New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation, said she never heard about $65,000 that went to a JROTC program at one of the high schools. Corbett said she plans to raise the issue with her board but feels conflicted about it.

“I am not a big NRA fan, but I also realize that ROTC is a good program,” she said. “I’m not sure I would be willing to pull it to the detriment of the kids and their programs.”

In some ways, the issue reflects the nation’s deep political divide over guns. Nearly three-quarters of the schools that received grants are in counties that voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, while a quarter are in counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the AP analysis. Most are in medium-sized counties or rural areas, with few near major cities.

In Massachusetts, for example, known for its strict gun laws, no schools have received NRA grants since 2010, tax records show. Terry Ryan, a school board member in the Westford district northwest of Boston, says a local teacher considered applying for a grant in 2014, but the district ultimately didn’t pursue it.

“We were not interested in any way, shape or form endorsing the NRA or its philosophy,” Ryan said in an interview.

By contrast, parent Jana Cox in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish says few in the area would have a problem with the $24,000 in NRA grants that have gone to school JROTC programs.

“Everybody here has guns,” Cox said. “This is north Louisiana. You’ve got a lot of hunters and you’ve got a lot of guns.”

Grants keep programs afloat

Without NRA grants, some programs would struggle to stay afloat, officials say. For JROTC groups, which receive most of their money from their respective military branches, the grants have become more important as federal budgets have been cut. Programs at some high schools in Virginia, Missouri and other states have folded in recent years amid the pinch.

Lt. Colonel Ralph Ingles, head of the JROTC program at Albuquerque schools, says the Florida shooting has sparked a conversation about NRA grants, but he doesn’t anticipate cutting ties anytime soon.

“I don’t see anybody really backing down,” he said. “I think it’s just ingrained that we’re going to continue to move forward in a positive direction.”

Trump’s Tariffs Elicit Strong Response at Home, Abroad

U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum is eliciting strong reactions at home and around the world.

America’s neighbors breathed a sigh of relief at being granted an exemption from the tariffs. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said despite the concession, Canada would continue to push back.

“In recent days, we have worked energetically with our American counterparts to secure an exemption for Canada from these tariffs,” she said. “This work continues and it will continue until the prospect of these duties is fully and permanently lifted.”

Canada is the largest supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States. Freeland ridiculed Trump’s national security justification for the measure, saying: “That Canada could pose any kind of security threat to the United States is inconceivable.”

​Allies combative

Other allies took an equally combative stance. 

“Protectionism, tariffs never really work,” British trade minister Liam Fox said Thursday. “We can deal multilaterally with the overproduction of steel, but this is the wrong way to go about it,” he said.

As did Canada, Fox said it was “doubly absurd” to target Britain with steel tariffs on national security grounds when it only provided the U.S. with 1 percent of its imports and made steel for the American military.

France said it “regrets” Trump’s decision. 

“There are only losers in a trade war. With our EU partners, we will assess consequences on our industries and agree (to an) appropriate response,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire tweeted Thursday.

Last week, Le Maire had warned that any such measures by the U.S. would be “unacceptable” and called for a “strong, coordinated, united response from the EU.”

​Negotiate exemptions

During the announcement of the tariffs, the White House said that countries concerned by the tariffs could try to negotiate possible exemptions.

“The EU is a close ally of the U.S. and we continue to think that the EU must be exempted from these measures,” said EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom.

“I will demand more clarity on this issue in the days to come,” she said.

 

WATCH: Economists Warn of Escalating Trade War Following US Steel Tariffs

Invitation to a trade war

Others also panned the tariffs as an invitation to a trade war. 

“If you put tariffs against your allies, one wonders who the enemies are,” said the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned, “Choosing a trade war is a mistaken prescription. The outcome will only be harmful. China would have to make a justified and necessary response.”

Brazil also said it planned such negotiations. 

“We will work to exclude Brazil from this measure,” acting Trade Minister Marcos Jorge told Reuters. Brazil is the United States’ No. 2 steel supplier.

​Mixed reactions on Capitol Hill

Many of the reactions around Washington were mixed.

“There are unquestionably bad trade practices by nations like China, but the better approach is targeted enforcement of those bad practices. Our economy and our national security are strengthened by fostering free trade with our allies,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

Senator Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who is not planning to seek re-election, said he will “immediately” draft legislation that attempts to block the tariffs.

“These so-called ‘flexible tariffs’ are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth: protectionism and uncertainty,” Flake said in a statement. “Trade wars are not won, they are only lost.”

But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virgina said he was “excited” by the idea of tariffs.

“I’m encouraged, I really am, and I think it gives us a chance to basically reboot, get jobs back to West Virginia, back to America,” he said.

Trump’s Tariffs Elicit Strong Response at Home, Abroad

U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum is eliciting strong reactions at home and around the world.

America’s neighbors breathed a sigh of relief at being granted an exemption from the tariffs. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said despite the concession, Canada would continue to push back.

“In recent days, we have worked energetically with our American counterparts to secure an exemption for Canada from these tariffs,” she said. “This work continues and it will continue until the prospect of these duties is fully and permanently lifted.”

Canada is the largest supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States. Freeland ridiculed Trump’s national security justification for the measure, saying: “That Canada could pose any kind of security threat to the United States is inconceivable.”

​Allies combative

Other allies took an equally combative stance. 

“Protectionism, tariffs never really work,” British trade minister Liam Fox said Thursday. “We can deal multilaterally with the overproduction of steel, but this is the wrong way to go about it,” he said.

As did Canada, Fox said it was “doubly absurd” to target Britain with steel tariffs on national security grounds when it only provided the U.S. with 1 percent of its imports and made steel for the American military.

France said it “regrets” Trump’s decision. 

“There are only losers in a trade war. With our EU partners, we will assess consequences on our industries and agree (to an) appropriate response,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire tweeted Thursday.

Last week, Le Maire had warned that any such measures by the U.S. would be “unacceptable” and called for a “strong, coordinated, united response from the EU.”

​Negotiate exemptions

During the announcement of the tariffs, the White House said that countries concerned by the tariffs could try to negotiate possible exemptions.

“The EU is a close ally of the U.S. and we continue to think that the EU must be exempted from these measures,” said EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom.

“I will demand more clarity on this issue in the days to come,” she said.

 

WATCH: Economists Warn of Escalating Trade War Following US Steel Tariffs

Invitation to a trade war

Others also panned the tariffs as an invitation to a trade war. 

“If you put tariffs against your allies, one wonders who the enemies are,” said the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned, “Choosing a trade war is a mistaken prescription. The outcome will only be harmful. China would have to make a justified and necessary response.”

Brazil also said it planned such negotiations. 

“We will work to exclude Brazil from this measure,” acting Trade Minister Marcos Jorge told Reuters. Brazil is the United States’ No. 2 steel supplier.

​Mixed reactions on Capitol Hill

Many of the reactions around Washington were mixed.

“There are unquestionably bad trade practices by nations like China, but the better approach is targeted enforcement of those bad practices. Our economy and our national security are strengthened by fostering free trade with our allies,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

Senator Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who is not planning to seek re-election, said he will “immediately” draft legislation that attempts to block the tariffs.

“These so-called ‘flexible tariffs’ are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth: protectionism and uncertainty,” Flake said in a statement. “Trade wars are not won, they are only lost.”

But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virgina said he was “excited” by the idea of tariffs.

“I’m encouraged, I really am, and I think it gives us a chance to basically reboot, get jobs back to West Virginia, back to America,” he said.

Trump, Porn Star Scandal Hits Mainstream Media

The story of President Donald Trump’s alleged extramarital relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels has been an open secret in Washington’s media circles for weeks. 

Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted paying Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair just before the 2016 presidential election. 

Celebrity magazine InTouch in February published an in-depth interview detailing Clifford’s story. But with denials and evasive silence, the story had remained on the sidelines of mainstream news until Wednesday when the White House appeared to acknowledge for the first time that Trump was involved in some way with the porn actress.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a Wednesday press briefing, tried to dismiss a question asked about the scandal by saying the president had already won a legal battle relating to the case. 

“This case has already been won in arbitration,” Sanders said, referring to a temporary restraining order issued last week by a private dispute-resolution firm that bars Clifford from talking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump and from suing the president.

Ruling ignored

Sanders added she was not aware that the president knew of the payment made to the actress.

Clifford ignored the order, filing a lawsuit Tuesday asserting that the nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the $130,000 payment was void because Trump never signed it. She contends in the lawsuit that she began “an intimate relationship” with Trump in the summer of 2006, and continued the relationship “well into the year 2007.”

According to the lawsuit, Trump’s lawyer filed the arbitration proceeding against Clifford last week to seek a restraining order to “shut her up” and “protect Mr. Trump.”

Trump ‘absolutely knew’

Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, told ABC News that Trump “absolutely knew” about the payment to his client. “Any suggestion that he didn’t know about it is, quite honestly, absurd,” he said.

Avenatti said the nondisclosure agreement was “sloppy” and referred to it as “amateur hour.”  

“He purposely did not sign it so that later he could have deniability as to its existence,” Avenatti told ABC News.

The nondisclosure agreement directed that $130,000 be paid into the trust account of Clifford’s then-attorney. In return, Clifford was not to disclose any confidential information about Trump or his sexual partners to anyone beyond the few individuals she had already talked to, or share any texts or photos from Trump. It also mandates “binding confidential arbitration of all disputes which may arise between them.”

The nondisclosure agreement also stipulates that any dispute be settled by a “solo, neutral arbitrator” at one of two private firms. One of those firms, Action Dispute Resolution Services, issued the restraining order against Clifford. 

David Dennison?

The agreement refers to Trump throughout as David Dennison, and Clifford as Peggy Peterson. In the side letter agreement, the true identity of “DD” is blacked out, but Avenatti says the individual is Trump. Each document includes a blank where “DD” is supposed to sign, but neither blank is signed.

The absence of the signatures is the basis for Clifford’s lawsuit filed Tuesday. Clifford claims that she is not bound by the nondisclosure agreement to stay quiet or go through arbitration because Trump never signed the agreement, rendering it unenforceable.

If the court agrees with Clifford and invalidates the agreement, Clifford will be free to bring her story involving the American president to the front pages of international news. 

Trump, Porn Star Scandal Hits Mainstream Media

The story of President Donald Trump’s alleged extramarital relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels has been an open secret in Washington’s media circles for weeks. 

Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted paying Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair just before the 2016 presidential election. 

Celebrity magazine InTouch in February published an in-depth interview detailing Clifford’s story. But with denials and evasive silence, the story had remained on the sidelines of mainstream news until Wednesday when the White House appeared to acknowledge for the first time that Trump was involved in some way with the porn actress.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a Wednesday press briefing, tried to dismiss a question asked about the scandal by saying the president had already won a legal battle relating to the case. 

“This case has already been won in arbitration,” Sanders said, referring to a temporary restraining order issued last week by a private dispute-resolution firm that bars Clifford from talking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump and from suing the president.

Ruling ignored

Sanders added she was not aware that the president knew of the payment made to the actress.

Clifford ignored the order, filing a lawsuit Tuesday asserting that the nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the $130,000 payment was void because Trump never signed it. She contends in the lawsuit that she began “an intimate relationship” with Trump in the summer of 2006, and continued the relationship “well into the year 2007.”

According to the lawsuit, Trump’s lawyer filed the arbitration proceeding against Clifford last week to seek a restraining order to “shut her up” and “protect Mr. Trump.”

Trump ‘absolutely knew’

Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, told ABC News that Trump “absolutely knew” about the payment to his client. “Any suggestion that he didn’t know about it is, quite honestly, absurd,” he said.

Avenatti said the nondisclosure agreement was “sloppy” and referred to it as “amateur hour.”  

“He purposely did not sign it so that later he could have deniability as to its existence,” Avenatti told ABC News.

The nondisclosure agreement directed that $130,000 be paid into the trust account of Clifford’s then-attorney. In return, Clifford was not to disclose any confidential information about Trump or his sexual partners to anyone beyond the few individuals she had already talked to, or share any texts or photos from Trump. It also mandates “binding confidential arbitration of all disputes which may arise between them.”

The nondisclosure agreement also stipulates that any dispute be settled by a “solo, neutral arbitrator” at one of two private firms. One of those firms, Action Dispute Resolution Services, issued the restraining order against Clifford. 

David Dennison?

The agreement refers to Trump throughout as David Dennison, and Clifford as Peggy Peterson. In the side letter agreement, the true identity of “DD” is blacked out, but Avenatti says the individual is Trump. Each document includes a blank where “DD” is supposed to sign, but neither blank is signed.

The absence of the signatures is the basis for Clifford’s lawsuit filed Tuesday. Clifford claims that she is not bound by the nondisclosure agreement to stay quiet or go through arbitration because Trump never signed the agreement, rendering it unenforceable.

If the court agrees with Clifford and invalidates the agreement, Clifford will be free to bring her story involving the American president to the front pages of international news. 

Trump Has ‘Feeling’ Departing Aide Cohn Will Be Back

President Donald Trump is joking about Gary Cohn as he bids farewell to his departing economic adviser.

 

Trump says at a Cabinet meeting that will be Cohn’s last that the former Goldman Sachs executive “may be a globalist but I still like him.”

 

The president says Cohn may one day return to the White House after leaving to make what Trump’s calling another couple hundred million dollars.

 

Cohn announced this week that he’d be leaving the administration in the coming weeks. That announcement came amid a wave of staff departures and after Cohn failed to convince Trump that he should reconsider imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

At Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Trump told Cohn: “I have a feeling you’ll be back.”

Trump Has ‘Feeling’ Departing Aide Cohn Will Be Back

President Donald Trump is joking about Gary Cohn as he bids farewell to his departing economic adviser.

 

Trump says at a Cabinet meeting that will be Cohn’s last that the former Goldman Sachs executive “may be a globalist but I still like him.”

 

The president says Cohn may one day return to the White House after leaving to make what Trump’s calling another couple hundred million dollars.

 

Cohn announced this week that he’d be leaving the administration in the coming weeks. That announcement came amid a wave of staff departures and after Cohn failed to convince Trump that he should reconsider imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

At Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Trump told Cohn: “I have a feeling you’ll be back.”

What Swamp? Lobbyists Get Ethics Waivers to Work for Trump

President Donald Trump and his appointees have stocked federal agencies with ex-lobbyists and corporate lawyers who now help regulate the very industries from which they previously collected paychecks, despite promising as a candidate to drain the swamp in Washington.

A week after his January 2017 inauguration, Trump signed an executive order that bars former lobbyists, lawyers and others from participating in any matter they lobbied or otherwise worked on for private clients within two years before going to work for the government.

 

But records reviewed by The Associated Press show Trump’s top lawyer, White House counsel Don McGahn, has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to key administration officials at the White House and executive branch agencies.

 

Though the waivers were typically signed by McGahn months ago, the Office of Government Ethics disclosed several more on Wednesday.

 

One allows FBI Director Chris Wray “to participate in matters involving a confidential former client.” The three-sentence waiver gives no indication about what Wray’s conflict of interest might be or how it may violate Trump’s ethics order.

 

Before returning to the Justice Department last year, Wray represented clients that included big banks and other corporations as a partner at a white-glove law firm that paid him $9.2 million a year, according to his financial disclosure statement.

 

Asked about the waivers, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said, “In the interests of full transparency and good governance, the posted waivers set forth the policy reasons for granting an exception to the pledge.”

 

Trump’s executive order on ethics supplanted a more stringent set of rules put in place by president Barack Obama in 2009 to avoid conflicts of interests. Nearly 70 waivers were issued to executive branch officials during Obama’s eight years, though those were generally more narrowly focused and offered a fuller legal explanation for why the waiver was granted.

 

Craig Holman, who lobbies in Washington for stricter government ethics and lobbying rules on behalf of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said just five of the waivers under Obama went to former lobbyists, most whom had worked for nonprofit groups.

 

He was initially optimistic when Trump issued his executive order.

“I was very surprised and at the same time very hopeful that he was going to take his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ seriously,” Holman said Wednesday. “It is now quite evident that the pledge was little more than campaign rhetoric. Not only are key provisions simply ignored and not enforced, when in cases where obvious conflicts of interest are brought into the limelight, the administration readily issues waivers from the ethics rules.”

 

Conflicts of interests

An analysis by the AP shows that nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate.

 

Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.

 

Erik Baptist, a top EPA lawyer, worked until 2016, as senior lawyer and registered federal lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade group for the oil and gas industry. According to disclosure reports, he lobbied Congress to pass legislation repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program created more than a decade ago to set minimum production quotas for biofuels to be blended into gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel.

 

Baptist signed an ethics agreement pledging to recuse himself from any issues involving his former employer, including several lawsuits filed against the agency where he now works. But in August, McGahn granted him approval to advise EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on issues surrounding the renewable fuel law.

McGahn wrote that he was exempting Baptist from the ethics pledge because “his deep understanding of the RFS program and the regulated industry, make him the ideal person to assist the administrator and his senior leadership team to make EPA and its renewable fuel programs more efficient and effective.”

 

Pruitt, a Republican who was closely aligned with the oil and gas industry as an elected official in his home state of Oklahoma, proposed modest cuts last summer to production quotas for biofuels that include ethanol, despite promises from Trump to leave the Renewable Fuel Standard alone.

 

That triggered bipartisan outrage among members of Congress from major corn-growing states, who threatened last fall to block Senate votes on the administration’s environmental nominees unless Pruitt backed down.

 

“Scott Pruitt has called on yet another fossil-fuel industry lobbyist … to help him tear down important protections for the American people,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “And the White House plays along, granting the lobbyist an ethics waiver.”

 

Jeffrey M. Sands previously worked as a top lobbyist for Syngenta, a major pesticide manufacturer. Following a request from the EPA, McGahn determined it was “in the public interest” to allow Sands to work as Pruitt’s senior adviser for agriculture.

 

Dennis “Lee” Forsgren, the deputy assistant administrator helping oversee the EPA’s enforcement of clean water regulations, was allowed to work on the EPA’s hurricane response efforts involving the Miccosukee, a Native American tribe in Florida for whom he was a registered lobbyist up until 2016.

 

“All EPA employees get ethics briefings when they start and continually work with our ethics office regarding any potential conflicts they may encounter while employed here,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said when asked whether the ethics waivers violate the spirt of Trump’s executive order.

 

The Treasury Department asked McGahn for three waivers. Anthony Sayegh, appointed as the assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a Fox News contributor. His waiver allows him to “participate in matters involving his former client.”

 

Brian Callahan, the department’s top lawyer at Treasury, was granted a waiver concerning issues involving his former position as general counsel at Cooper and Kirk PLLC. The law firm represents Fairholme Funds, which recently filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the Fair Housing Finance Agency.

 

McGahn’s waiver allows Callahan to participate in discussions about policy decisions pertaining to housing finance reform, even though “some of these discussions could at some point touch upon issues that might impact the litigation.”

 

The State Department got five waivers. The former law firm of Edward T. McMullen, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, represented Boeing. The Swiss government recently announced its intent to purchase military equipment and accept bids from American companies.

 

Another waiver allows communications director Heather Nauert to work with employees of Fox News even though she used to work as a broadcast journalist for the network. Nauert is identified in the waiver, which was heavily redacted before release, by her legal name, Heather Norby.

 

At the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver got a waiver allowing him to “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties,” including his former client: the Japanese government.

 

Health and Human Services asked for waivers for senior counselor to the secretary Keagan Lenihan, a registered lobbyist who recently worked for a pharmaceutical and health services company and for chief of staff Lance Leggitt, who recently lobbied on behalf of his law firm’s health law practice group.

Agriculture Department policy adviser Kailee Tkacz is allowed to “participate personally and substantially in matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a guide that offers nutritional information and recommendations.

 

McGahn’s waiver didn’t offer much detail into the potential conflict Tkacz’s appointment would pose. But other records show she most recently served as food policy director for the Corn Refiners Association, a trade organization representing producers of corn starch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup.

 

Before that, she lobbied on behalf of SNAC International, a trade association for snack food manufacturers.

 

What Swamp? Lobbyists Get Ethics Waivers to Work for Trump

President Donald Trump and his appointees have stocked federal agencies with ex-lobbyists and corporate lawyers who now help regulate the very industries from which they previously collected paychecks, despite promising as a candidate to drain the swamp in Washington.

A week after his January 2017 inauguration, Trump signed an executive order that bars former lobbyists, lawyers and others from participating in any matter they lobbied or otherwise worked on for private clients within two years before going to work for the government.

 

But records reviewed by The Associated Press show Trump’s top lawyer, White House counsel Don McGahn, has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to key administration officials at the White House and executive branch agencies.

 

Though the waivers were typically signed by McGahn months ago, the Office of Government Ethics disclosed several more on Wednesday.

 

One allows FBI Director Chris Wray “to participate in matters involving a confidential former client.” The three-sentence waiver gives no indication about what Wray’s conflict of interest might be or how it may violate Trump’s ethics order.

 

Before returning to the Justice Department last year, Wray represented clients that included big banks and other corporations as a partner at a white-glove law firm that paid him $9.2 million a year, according to his financial disclosure statement.

 

Asked about the waivers, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said, “In the interests of full transparency and good governance, the posted waivers set forth the policy reasons for granting an exception to the pledge.”

 

Trump’s executive order on ethics supplanted a more stringent set of rules put in place by president Barack Obama in 2009 to avoid conflicts of interests. Nearly 70 waivers were issued to executive branch officials during Obama’s eight years, though those were generally more narrowly focused and offered a fuller legal explanation for why the waiver was granted.

 

Craig Holman, who lobbies in Washington for stricter government ethics and lobbying rules on behalf of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said just five of the waivers under Obama went to former lobbyists, most whom had worked for nonprofit groups.

 

He was initially optimistic when Trump issued his executive order.

“I was very surprised and at the same time very hopeful that he was going to take his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ seriously,” Holman said Wednesday. “It is now quite evident that the pledge was little more than campaign rhetoric. Not only are key provisions simply ignored and not enforced, when in cases where obvious conflicts of interest are brought into the limelight, the administration readily issues waivers from the ethics rules.”

 

Conflicts of interests

An analysis by the AP shows that nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate.

 

Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.

 

Erik Baptist, a top EPA lawyer, worked until 2016, as senior lawyer and registered federal lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade group for the oil and gas industry. According to disclosure reports, he lobbied Congress to pass legislation repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program created more than a decade ago to set minimum production quotas for biofuels to be blended into gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel.

 

Baptist signed an ethics agreement pledging to recuse himself from any issues involving his former employer, including several lawsuits filed against the agency where he now works. But in August, McGahn granted him approval to advise EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on issues surrounding the renewable fuel law.

McGahn wrote that he was exempting Baptist from the ethics pledge because “his deep understanding of the RFS program and the regulated industry, make him the ideal person to assist the administrator and his senior leadership team to make EPA and its renewable fuel programs more efficient and effective.”

 

Pruitt, a Republican who was closely aligned with the oil and gas industry as an elected official in his home state of Oklahoma, proposed modest cuts last summer to production quotas for biofuels that include ethanol, despite promises from Trump to leave the Renewable Fuel Standard alone.

 

That triggered bipartisan outrage among members of Congress from major corn-growing states, who threatened last fall to block Senate votes on the administration’s environmental nominees unless Pruitt backed down.

 

“Scott Pruitt has called on yet another fossil-fuel industry lobbyist … to help him tear down important protections for the American people,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “And the White House plays along, granting the lobbyist an ethics waiver.”

 

Jeffrey M. Sands previously worked as a top lobbyist for Syngenta, a major pesticide manufacturer. Following a request from the EPA, McGahn determined it was “in the public interest” to allow Sands to work as Pruitt’s senior adviser for agriculture.

 

Dennis “Lee” Forsgren, the deputy assistant administrator helping oversee the EPA’s enforcement of clean water regulations, was allowed to work on the EPA’s hurricane response efforts involving the Miccosukee, a Native American tribe in Florida for whom he was a registered lobbyist up until 2016.

 

“All EPA employees get ethics briefings when they start and continually work with our ethics office regarding any potential conflicts they may encounter while employed here,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said when asked whether the ethics waivers violate the spirt of Trump’s executive order.

 

The Treasury Department asked McGahn for three waivers. Anthony Sayegh, appointed as the assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a Fox News contributor. His waiver allows him to “participate in matters involving his former client.”

 

Brian Callahan, the department’s top lawyer at Treasury, was granted a waiver concerning issues involving his former position as general counsel at Cooper and Kirk PLLC. The law firm represents Fairholme Funds, which recently filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the Fair Housing Finance Agency.

 

McGahn’s waiver allows Callahan to participate in discussions about policy decisions pertaining to housing finance reform, even though “some of these discussions could at some point touch upon issues that might impact the litigation.”

 

The State Department got five waivers. The former law firm of Edward T. McMullen, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, represented Boeing. The Swiss government recently announced its intent to purchase military equipment and accept bids from American companies.

 

Another waiver allows communications director Heather Nauert to work with employees of Fox News even though she used to work as a broadcast journalist for the network. Nauert is identified in the waiver, which was heavily redacted before release, by her legal name, Heather Norby.

 

At the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver got a waiver allowing him to “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties,” including his former client: the Japanese government.

 

Health and Human Services asked for waivers for senior counselor to the secretary Keagan Lenihan, a registered lobbyist who recently worked for a pharmaceutical and health services company and for chief of staff Lance Leggitt, who recently lobbied on behalf of his law firm’s health law practice group.

Agriculture Department policy adviser Kailee Tkacz is allowed to “participate personally and substantially in matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a guide that offers nutritional information and recommendations.

 

McGahn’s waiver didn’t offer much detail into the potential conflict Tkacz’s appointment would pose. But other records show she most recently served as food policy director for the Corn Refiners Association, a trade organization representing producers of corn starch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup.

 

Before that, she lobbied on behalf of SNAC International, a trade association for snack food manufacturers.

 

Ex-Trump Campaign Manager Lewandowski Faces Russia Interview

One of Donald Trump’s former campaign managers has arrived on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

 

Corey Lewandowski led Trump’s presidential campaign for nearly a year. He was fired before the November 2016 election and held no official positions after he was let go. But he’s remained close to Trump and some White House officials, and has been a prominent defender of Trump on television.

 

Lewandowski first appeared before the committee in January. He refused to answer questions about things that happened after his time on the campaign, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff of California.

 

 

DACA Stalemate Continues on Capitol Hill

One day after hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants formally lost temporary protection from deportation, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona attempted to revive U.S. Senate debate on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which had provided temporary work and study permits to beneficiaries.

“There are teachers, students and members of the military who are DACA recipients. They are friends and colleagues who represent the very best ideas of America,” Flake said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to extend DACA protections for three years and provide for three years of increased border funding.”

Another Republican, James Lankford of Oklahoma, objected to Flake’s motion, shelving the issue once again.

“If Congress does a temporary patch once, it’ll do it 20 times again,” Lankford said.

Last year, President Donald Trump set a March 5 expiration date for DACA, an Obama administration program protecting immigrants brought illegally into the country as children. Trump challenged Congress to enact a permanent fix granting the immigrants legal status. Lawmakers of both political parties back the goal, but Congress has yet to act.

In the meantime, federal court battles over Trump’s DACA order have prevented deportations from going forward — a reprieve for so-called “Dreamers” that could end at any time.

“It’s a politically tricky issue for Republicans,” said political analyst Molly Reynolds of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan “are really hesitant to expose those divides within the party. I also think they are hesitant to be seen as giving a win to Democrats,” she added.

On Twitter and in recent public speeches, Trump has blamed Democrats for Washington’s inaction.

“We’re trying to have a DACA victory for everybody, by the way, and the Democrats are nowhere to be found,” the president said Wednesday in an address to Hispanic business leaders.

Democrats insist they remain ready to make a deal with Republicans on immigration and border security, noting it was Trump who, in January, appeared to endorse a bipartisan proposal with a DACA fix, then rejected it days later.

“This humanitarian crisis in this country, and I call it that, was created by President Trump on September 5,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said. “He has failed to agree to six different bipartisan proposals to solve the problem he created. And now these lives hang in the balance.”

Observers note that, while Democrats are in the minority in Congress, they are not without clout, especially in the Senate, where a three-fifths majority is required for most legislation to advance.

“It’s a matter of, do Democrats want to keep pushing the issue?” Reynolds said.

Democrats could apply pressure for action on immigration by withholding votes later this month on a yearlong government funding bill. They already used that tactic earlier this year, causing a brief federal shutdown, and Democratic leaders have shown little appetite for a repeat.

“We’re going to keep fighting hard for DACA, but we need to hear something from Republicans, because they’re the ones who have thwarted it time and time again,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Court challenges to Trump’s DACA decision have, in effect, extended the deadline for Congress to act. Political analysts believe that makes it more likely that Dreamers will remain in legal limbo through the November midterm elections.

DACA Stalemate Continues on Capitol Hill

One day after hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants formally lost temporary protection from deportation, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona attempted to revive U.S. Senate debate on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which had provided temporary work and study permits to beneficiaries.

“There are teachers, students and members of the military who are DACA recipients. They are friends and colleagues who represent the very best ideas of America,” Flake said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to extend DACA protections for three years and provide for three years of increased border funding.”

Another Republican, James Lankford of Oklahoma, objected to Flake’s motion, shelving the issue once again.

“If Congress does a temporary patch once, it’ll do it 20 times again,” Lankford said.

Last year, President Donald Trump set a March 5 expiration date for DACA, an Obama administration program protecting immigrants brought illegally into the country as children. Trump challenged Congress to enact a permanent fix granting the immigrants legal status. Lawmakers of both political parties back the goal, but Congress has yet to act.

In the meantime, federal court battles over Trump’s DACA order have prevented deportations from going forward — a reprieve for so-called “Dreamers” that could end at any time.

“It’s a politically tricky issue for Republicans,” said political analyst Molly Reynolds of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan “are really hesitant to expose those divides within the party. I also think they are hesitant to be seen as giving a win to Democrats,” she added.

On Twitter and in recent public speeches, Trump has blamed Democrats for Washington’s inaction.

“We’re trying to have a DACA victory for everybody, by the way, and the Democrats are nowhere to be found,” the president said Wednesday in an address to Hispanic business leaders.

Democrats insist they remain ready to make a deal with Republicans on immigration and border security, noting it was Trump who, in January, appeared to endorse a bipartisan proposal with a DACA fix, then rejected it days later.

“This humanitarian crisis in this country, and I call it that, was created by President Trump on September 5,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said. “He has failed to agree to six different bipartisan proposals to solve the problem he created. And now these lives hang in the balance.”

Observers note that, while Democrats are in the minority in Congress, they are not without clout, especially in the Senate, where a three-fifths majority is required for most legislation to advance.

“It’s a matter of, do Democrats want to keep pushing the issue?” Reynolds said.

Democrats could apply pressure for action on immigration by withholding votes later this month on a yearlong government funding bill. They already used that tactic earlier this year, causing a brief federal shutdown, and Democratic leaders have shown little appetite for a repeat.

“We’re going to keep fighting hard for DACA, but we need to hear something from Republicans, because they’re the ones who have thwarted it time and time again,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Court challenges to Trump’s DACA decision have, in effect, extended the deadline for Congress to act. Political analysts believe that makes it more likely that Dreamers will remain in legal limbo through the November midterm elections.

Despite Widespread Pushback, Trump Finds Some Support for Tariff Plan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum has met criticism from his Republican allies in Congress, many of whom worry the measures could trigger a trade war that damages U.S. businesses. But the president does have supporters among some Senate Democrats from states where voters are concerned about the long-term loss of American manufacturing jobs.

“This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating,” Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said in a statement released after the plan was announced. “If we fail to stand up for steel jobs today, China will come after other jobs up and down the supply chain tomorrow.”

American labor unions have also broadly favored Trump’s proposed tariffs, saying they have been complaining for years that foreign countries frequently subsidize their own steel industries, putting American competitors at a disadvantage. 

Economists have been mostly critical of the plan, saying that overall it will hurt American manufacturers, some of whom may be targeted by trading partners for retaliatory sanction. They argue that the benefits to steel and aluminum workers are outweighed by job losses among Americans in other industries. 

Tariffs in focus in special election 

A test of how much the issue is resonating with American voters comes next week, when voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, vote in a special election to fill a vacated seat. 

Many voters are looking to the president to fulfill his campaign promise of protecting manufacturing jobs in America’s heartland.

The race for the seat left vacant by Rep. Tim Murphy’s sex scandal is coming down to the wire between Republican candidate Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb.

Saccone’s campaign endorsed Trump’s tariff plan in a statement, saying “If other countries aren’t playing by the rules and tariffs are needed to protect steel and aluminum jobs in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Rick would support those measures.”Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey also voiced his support for the president’s plan in a Facebook statement Thursday.

“I commend the President for announcing his intent to take action to protect our steelworkers from countries, like China, that cheat on trade. I have repeatedly called on this and previous Administrations to aggressively enforce our trade laws. For years, foreign countries have been dumping steel into our markets and costing our workers their jobs and suppressing their wages,” he wrote.

But Trump’s plan to impose the new tariffs prompted White House Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn to resign Tuesday.

McConnell, Ryan concerned

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan also expressed their concerns to the president, urging him to target the tariffs against specific countries to avoid a potential trade war.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told cable news network CNBC Wednesday the administration is not seeking a trade war. 

“We’re going to have very sensible relations with our allies,” said Ross. “We hope and we believe that at the end of the day, there will be a process of working with the other countries that are our friends.”

Trump dismissed concerns about a trade war during a joint press conference with the Swedish prime minister Tuesday.

“When we’re behind on every single country, trade wars aren’t so bad,” he told reporters. “In some cases we lose on trade plus we give them military where we’re subsidizing them tremendously. So, not only do we lose on trade, we lose on military.”

The administration is considering the new tariffs under a so-called “232 report.” It allows the president to impose trade quotes or tariffs if a probe finds imports threaten national security.

‘National security’

“It’s about our economy,” Vice President Mike Pence said of the need to enact tariffs, during a February meeting with lawmakers. “It’s about our national security.”

A March 7 Politico/Morning Consult poll of 2,000 registered voters, found that 65 percent of Republicans support the president’s plan.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday the administration was still on pace to fully roll-out the tariffs at the end of this week.