Nauert withdraws from consideration to become UN ambassador

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has withdrawn herself from consideration to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the State Department confirmed on Saturday.

“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration,” Nauert said in a statement.

“Serving in the Administration for the past two years has been one of the highest honors of my life and I will always be grateful to the President, the Secretary, and my colleagues at the State Department for their support.”

Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration leaves President Donald Trump without an ambassador to the United Nations amid growing questions about the strength of U.S. leadership on the global stage.

Trump’s relationship with traditional allies in Western Europe is rocky due to his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, his oft-stated disdain for NATO, and his apparent fondness for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump also has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, raising questions about the role America will continue to play against battling the Islamic State terrorist network.

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a department news release that the president “will make an announcement with respect to a nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations soon.”

Pompeo in a statement said Nauert “performed her duties as a senior member of my team with unequalled excellence,” adding that he had “great respect” for her decision to drop out of the running for the diplomatic post.

“I wish Heather nothing but the best in all of her future endeavors and know that she will continue to be a great representative of this nation in whatever role she finds herself,” Pompeo said.

The White House and the National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nauert also did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump considered several others for the job before he picked Nauert: Dina Powell, Ambassador to Russia Jon Hunstman; Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, State Department official Brian Hook and his daughter Ivanka Trump.

Nahal Toosi and Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Graham: I ‘support’ Trump emergency declaration

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Saturday expressed his support for President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency, and said Trump’s own admission that he “didn’t need to” invoke his emergency powers did not weaken the White House’s claim that there is a crisis at the southern border.

“I really don’t think so,” Graham told host Margaret Brennan in an interview set to air Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“I think the president’s been making a persuasive case that the border is broken, you know,” he said. “Drugs are flowing across the border killing Americans, human trafficking. We’ve got a dangerous situation along the border.”

Trump on Friday announced his plans for an emergency declaration to help facilitate the construction of a wall along the southern border. During a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, the president said: “I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this.”

Congressional Democrats have seized upon those remarks as evidence that current rates of illegal immigration from Mexico into the U.S. do not constitute a national emergency. The liberal advocacy group Public Citizen on Friday filed the first of what is likely to be many lawsuits challenging the White House’s maneuver, arguing that Trump used the declaration to circumvent lawmakers in violation of the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.

But Graham on Saturday said the president’s actions were legal and justified.

“I think the president has the authority to deploy troops to the border. Obama did. Bush did. Trump has,” he said. “And I think he has the authority while they’re there to build barriers, and we’ll see. I support his desire to get it done sooner rather than later.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected within weeks to pass a resolution formally disapproving of the president’s national emergency declaration. The measure will then head to the Senate, where several of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have already expressed unease with the precedent Trump’s decision sets for future administrations.

“Congress is locked down and will not give him what we’ve given past presidents,” Graham said. “So unfortunately, he’s got to do it on his own, and I support his decision to go that route."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Senate Homeland chief weighs Trump rebuke on emergency declaration

The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he is undecided on whether he will vote to rebuke President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, adding that he is concerned the maneuver establishes a dangerous precedent for the executive branch.

“I’m going to take a look at the case the president makes,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told host Chuck Todd in an interview set to air Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Democratic-controlled House is expected within weeks to pass a resolution formally disapproving of Trump’s invocation of emergency powers. The measure will then head to the Senate, where several of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have already expressed unease with the president’s decision to circumvent Congress.

The bipartisan spending deal Trump signed on Friday allocated $1.375 billion for border security — far less than the $5.7 billion he initially sought for a wall along the southern border. But the emergency declaration will allow the White House to redirect roughly $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction toward his campaign trail promise.

The administration is also seeking to tap $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program and $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund to construct or repair up to 234 miles of barriers separating the U.S. from Mexico.

“I’m also going to take a look at how quickly this money is actually going to be spent, versus what he’s going to use,” Johnson said. “If he’s not going to be spending it this fiscal year or very early in the next fiscal year, I would have my doubts. So again, I’m going to take a look at it and I’ll, you know, I’ll decide when I actually have to vote on it.”

Asked about reservations among conservatives who fear that Trump’s declaration will empower future Democratic administrations to use their presidential authority to advance their agendas, Johnson said: “Absolutely, I share those concerns, which is why we’re going to take a very careful look at what he’s doing here in this instance.”

Johnson has frequently broken with the president over the White House’s more controversial policy proposals.

Earlier this month, he torched the Trump administration’s plans for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, saying the exodus of American soldiers from the region would be “tragic” and “unconscionable.” Johnson was also one of 43 Senate Republicans to back a measure by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that rebuked the president’s Syria policy in a bipartisan vote.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Senate Homeland chief weighs Trump rebuke on emergency declaration

The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he is undecided on whether he will vote to rebuke President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, adding that he is concerned the maneuver establishes a dangerous precedent for the executive branch.

“I’m going to take a look at the case the president makes,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told host Chuck Todd in an interview set to air Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Democratic-controlled House is expected within weeks to pass a resolution formally disapproving of Trump’s invocation of emergency powers. The measure will then head to the Senate, where several of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have already expressed unease with the president’s decision to circumvent Congress.

The bipartisan spending deal Trump signed on Friday allocated $1.375 billion for border security — far less than the $5.7 billion he initially sought for a wall along the southern border. But the emergency declaration will allow the White House to redirect roughly $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction toward his campaign trail promise.

The administration is also seeking to tap $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program and $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund to construct or repair up to 234 miles of barriers separating the U.S. from Mexico.

“I’m also going to take a look at how quickly this money is actually going to be spent, versus what he’s going to use,” Johnson said. “If he’s not going to be spending it this fiscal year or very early in the next fiscal year, I would have my doubts. So again, I’m going to take a look at it and I’ll, you know, I’ll decide when I actually have to vote on it.”

Asked about reservations among conservatives who fear that Trump’s declaration will empower future Democratic administrations to use their presidential authority to advance their agendas, Johnson said: “Absolutely, I share those concerns, which is why we’re going to take a very careful look at what he’s doing here in this instance.”

Johnson has frequently broken with the president over the White House’s more controversial policy proposals.

Earlier this month, he torched the Trump administration’s plans for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, saying the exodus of American soldiers from the region would be “tragic” and “unconscionable.” Johnson was also one of 43 Senate Republicans to back a measure by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that rebuked the president’s Syria policy in a bipartisan vote.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Week 91: Mueller’s Case for Collusion Comes Into View

With a light hand, barely pressing his pencil on paper, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III began sketching his case for Trump campaign collusion with the Russians in a new Friday court filing related to Roger Stone’s prosecution for lying to Congress.

Until Friday, Mueller’s team had been coy about directly connecting any Trump campaign associate to a 12-member Russian GRU military intelligence team it indicted in July 2018 for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign. It had secured guilty pleas from such scandal participants as former national security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump campaign executive Rick Gates, campaign backbencher George Papadopoulos, and others, and convicted campaign director Paul Manafort on an array of financial fraud charges connected to his politicking and lobbying for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

But the two seemingly parallel investigations never really intersected. Self-described dirty trickster Stone, who worked on the early Trump campaign and remained close to Trump and his aides after departing, wanted the court to say the investigations were separate. He requested a new judge, saying the charges against him had nothing to do with the Russian hackers case, also being prosecuted before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. But the judge tossed Stone’s request, accepting Mueller’s line of argument that Stone directly interacted with the Russians and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, the middleman for the hacked emails.

Now that the two investigations are one, what remains to be gleaned is how wide and deep the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russians and WikiLeaks were.

Previous Mueller filings had noted Stone’s attempts to contact WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange through intermediaries, hoping to learn what sort of politically potent documents he might have. But Stone had steadfastly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. That’s a lie, Mueller’s new filing says. Citing evidence obtained in “dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release,” it claims Stone communicated with WikiLeaks (referred to as “Organization 1” in the filing) and Guccifer 2.0 (a Russian intelligence alias used to spread the hacks).

Who else did Stone talk to about the WikiLeaks dump? Last month’s Stone indictment had him informing “senior Trump campaign officials” between June and July 2016 that WikiLeaks possessed hacked emails that could damage the Clinton candidacy. Then came WikiLeaks’ first release of Democratic emails on July 22, 2016, followed by the Trump campaign’s request for more.

This artfully constructed sentence in the Stone indictment has birthed a million speculations that Donald Trump was among the requesters: “A senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1,” the indictment reads. Would anybody be in a position to direct a senior Trump campaign official but Trump himself? Lightly traced but still visible, Mueller has drawn a possible line from Trump to a campaign aide to Stone to WikiLeaks and the Russians. Inside the White House, Trump must be screaming for an eraser.

In the Manafort case, Mueller roughed up the convict with explicit language in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday. “Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller stated. “Given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factors.” Under federal sentencing guidelines, Manafort could get 19 to 24.5 years in prison—essentially a life sentence for the 69-year-old.

Mueller looked like a merciful, New Testament-toting Christian in comparison to Judge Jackson in the Manafort matter. Her Feb. 13 hearing, in which she examined the special counsel’s charge that Manafort had lied after promising cooperation, was released in redacted form on Friday. The judge rejected Manafort’s attorneys’ assertion that confusion and not lies were behind the stream of bogus information Manafort had fed Mueller. “My concern isn’t with non-answers or simply denials, but the times he affirmatively advanced a detailed alternative story that was inconsistent with the facts.” The lies followed a pattern, too, the judge said. “Concessions comes [sic] in dribs and drabs, only after it’s clear that the office of the special counsel already knew the answer. Again, it’s part of a pattern of requiring the office of the special counsel to pull teeth; withholding facts if he can get away with it.”

The judge singled out the way Manafort had lied about his interactions with Konstantin V. Kilimnik, Manafort’s former employee and believed by Mueller to be a Russian intelligence asset, calling it a “problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”

Manafort originally claimed to have spoken only once with Kilimnik about the Ukrainian “peace plan”—at the Grand Havana Room cigar joint in New York on Aug. 2, 2016, just before he was fired from the Trump campaign. But Manafort eventually conceded that he discussed the “peace plan” three additional times after prosecutors showed him evidence of the other meetings. Why these lies? What was he hiding?

The Kilimnik question engaged and enraged Judge Jackson. “We’ve now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or needed-to-be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant’s relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik,” she said. “This topic is at the undisputed core of the office of special counsel’s investigation.”

With Democrats now calling the investigative shots in the House of Representatives, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings made news on Friday with a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone claiming evidence that two Trump attorneys had lied to government ethics officials about Michael Cohen’s hush-money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

“This raises significant questions about why some of the president’s closest advisers made these false claims and the extent to which they too were acting at the direction of, or in coordination with, the president,” Cummings wrote. Trump’s attorneys had denied that Trump owed money to Cohen in 2016 and 2017, but the story evolved after Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a TV interview that Trump had paid Cohen as part of a “retainer.”

After we sort out the whole Russian mess, the task will be assigned to someone to tally up the saga’s greatest lies. One contender for the crown might be White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who told CNN on Friday that she was interviewed by Mueller’s team late last year. Because Sanders has been loquacious on the investigation topic since taking the press secretary job in July 2017, Mueller would want to know what sort of input Trump provided. Did he feed her the sort of lies that could be read as obstruction to justice?

I hope for Sanders’ sake she told the truth. Judge Jackson and Mueller don’t cotton to liars.

******

Is Judge Jackson a hanging judge? Send predictions via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts urge forgiveness for all the sinners. My Twitter feed is on the same page. My RSS feed suggests shallow, unmarked graves in the Sonoran Desert for the transgressors.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Bernie Sanders records video announcing 2020 campaign

Bernie Sanders, inching closer to a second bid for the White House, has recorded a campaign video in which he says he is running for president in 2020, according to two people familiar with the spot.

It’s the latest sign the independent senator, the runner-up in the 2016 contest for the Democratic nomination, is nearing a presidential announcement.

Another hint that Sanders is getting closer to a launch: As POLITICO reported this week, the Sanders team has been interviewing people for top staff positions. Chuck Rocha, a political consultant who advised Sanders’ 2016 campaign, is expected to join him again if a second bid materializes.

It is unclear when, or even whether, the Sanders video will be released. It’s possible that Sanders could launch a 2020 campaign with an exploratory committee and then formally declare his candidacy later, a route other presidential candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have taken.

Sarah Ford, a spokeswoman for Sanders, did not respond to a request for comment about the video.

Tim Tagaris and Robin Curran, two 2016 alumni who helped power Sanders’ successful small-dollar fundraising program, have agreed to join any second presidential campaign.

The Sanders team has also been in talks with Means of Production, the filmmaking company that created Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s viral campaign video during the midterm election, about a major 2020 role.

Meanwhile, the group founded by Sanders has been readying its members in case he runs. Our Revolution revealed its plans this weekend for the second phase of its campaign to draft Sanders into the presidential race. In a fundraising email sent to supporters, Our Revolution political director David Duhalde asked for donations to help fund phone-banking, door-knocking, volunteer trainings, and other outreach strategies.

“We’re organizing every day so that if and when Bernie announces,” he said, “our members and our groups can hit the ground running.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine