Gore’s advice for Trump: ‘Resign’

Al Gore says it’s time for President Donald Trump to leave office.

“Resign,” the former Democratic vice president told the website LADbible in an interview published Thursday. He was asked what single piece of advice he’d give Trump.

Gore, who is currently on a promotion tour for his new movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power,” has been highly critical of Trump in recent interviews over the president’s moves to dismantle several high-profile Obama administration environmental policies.

“I thought, actually there was a chance he might come to his senses,” Gore said earlier this month during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” referring to his own December visit to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect on climate issues.

Since that pre-inauguration meeting, Trump has pulled the United States from the Paris international climate agreement and also made moves to dismantle Environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at curbing greenhouse gases from power plants and automobiles.

During a July interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Gore said Trump had “undermined our alliances, such as NATO.”

“We’ve never had a president who’s deliberately made decisions the effect of which is to tear down America’s standing in the world,” Gore said.

Gore’s new film is a follow-up to his 2006 Oscar-winning original documentary, which featured the onetime Democratic presidential nominee delivering a slideshow presentation designed to raise awareness about climate change.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Gore’s advice to the president.

CEOs to move their White House talks underground

Chief executives no longer want to appear in photo-ops with President Donald Trump following his race comments about Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean they’re giving up on trying to shape his agenda.

There’s simply too much money at stake with tax reform, infrastructure, and health care in play — billions of dollars in a tax overhaul alone — for corporations to disengage entirely with the White House or official Washington.

So while companies will rely less on direct access to Trump through advisory councils and meetings at the White House, their advisers and lobbyists still plan to engage with top White House aides such as Vice President Mike Pence or National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, political appointees at agencies, and Congress to make their case for rolling back regulations, keeping specific tax breaks, or cutting the corporate tax rate.

This will, in effect, push corporations’ lobby efforts more underground than a public listening session at the White House, covered with fanfare by photographers and reporters. That’s an ironic twist, eight months into the administration, for a president who promised to “drain the swamp” during his campaign.

For now, the only part of the White House that is toxic to business leaders and companies is the businessman-turned-president himself.

“Businesses will continue to engage on the issues important to the American economy, just through different venues,” said Michael Steel, managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies, a public affairs firm that represents a number of financial services clients. “Many people in the business community are frustrated by the president’s words and tweets on Charlottesville, but that does not change the importance of policies that make life better for the economy and the American people.”

And one Republican lobbyist said he isn’t confident that legislative successes would quickly turn around many CEOs’ skittishness about being captured on film shaking Trump’s hand. “Imagine if we start passing legislation,” the lobbyist said. “In a few months, let’s say we pass a tax bill. Normally, we’d have a big rah-rah at the White House, but would CEOs even show up for a victorious event? Maybe not.”

A White House official downplayed the significance of the disbanding of the two business councils earlier this week, saying that the formal meetings in recent months had become less valuable.

In the months ahead, the administration plans to do calls and outreach to CEOs or companies on specific issues, the official added, similar to recent private calls it did this spring on STEM education, or modernizing government information technology.

The White House scrapped two of its business advisory groups, filled with CEOs, manufacturers, and trade association and labor union leaders, after several members dropped out or threatened to leave following Trump’s comments on Tuesday in which he blamed the Charlottesville violence on “both sides” and said that not all white supremacists were bad people.

On Thursday, the White House also said that its advisory council on infrastructure would not move forward.

For the president, the loss of public support from the business community knocks off another chunk of his base at a time when his approval ratings in the polls are dropping.

“The president needs friends, and one of his friends has dropped out of the room. In terms of political legitimacy, this has been a bad week for the White House,” said Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School.

And by distancing themselves from the president over his failure to fully condemn hate groups, CEOs miss the chance to visit the Roosevelt Room to make subtle or nuanced suggestions on their pet issues, be it tax reform or health care or regulations.

“Historically, those sorts of visits and a spot on a presidential business council was considered coveted and a big deal,” Useem added. “Now, companies will not want to be seen with him.”

There’s no doubt that companies will continue to keep a firm toehold in Washington’s policy machinations, especially with tax reform on the horizon, a long-held Republican dream.

Groups like the Business Roundtable, which has pledged to spend millions of dollars in 2017 to push for a tax overhaul, are keeping their advocacy plans in place. “It is a priority of Business Roundtable to get tax reform done this year, and we remain committed,” said Jessica Boulanger, senior vice president at BRT.

This week, the level of angst among CEOs spiked after Trump called out the CEO of Merck on Twitter for dropping out of one of his business councils following the president’s handling of Charlottesville. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of management at the Yale School of Management, said he’d spoken to 26 chief executives over the last three days, and they largely expressed the feeling that “they had a moral compulsion to act,” he said.

The business leaders’ decision to distance themselves from the president was made much easier by the fact that so few knew him personally, Sonnenfeld said. Nor did they consider him a peer, despite his boasts of his wealth and success in building his family real estate business.

“He was not a Fortune 500 CEO. The truth is: They don’t know him. He is not in their social circles,” Sonnenfeld added.

One lobbyist said the biggest loser is clearly Trump, given that CEOs and companies were the one constituency well-positioned to execute for him and help his agenda. Now, they too are off-limits. That is a hard truth for a president who has centered much of his campaign promises on increasing wages, growing the economy, and bringing jobs back to the U.S. – all the while going to war with major U.S. employers like Intel, 3M, and GM.

For many of the blue-chip corporations caught up in the maelstrom this week, they’re simply catching up to the Silicon Valley tech companies that struck up a complicated relationship with the president and administration almost immediately, dating back to the January roll-out of the immigration and travel ban that infuriated these companies that employ many workers on special visas.

Moving ahead, CEOs’ major worry is not wanting to get called out by the president in a tweet, or publicly criticized at a press conference. One D.C.-based crisis communications expert said that companies have had contingency plans in place since the election for that exact scenario.

In the meantime, the only thing that really changes between CEOs and Trump is that they’re no longer willing to “be the potted plant in the White House’s public relations campaigns,” Sonnenfeld said.

New charges filed against ex-House Democratic IT aide

A federal grand jury has broadened the criminal indictment against Imran Awan, a former House Democratic IT staffer who was charged with bank fraud last month as he tried to leave the United States for Pakistan.

Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, has also been indicted, although she and the couple’s three children are already in Pakistan, according to FBI officials.

The new charges against Awan and Alvi include conspiracy to commit bank fraud; false statements on a loan or credit application and unlawful monetary transactions; and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Awan was still on the payroll for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) until he was indicted last month. Awan, a longtime IT staffer who worked for more than two dozen House Democrats, has been at the center of an ongoing criminal probe on Capitol Hill related to alleged procurement theft. Several of his family members, also former House IT staffers, have been implicated in the ongoing investigation.

Awan and Alvi allegedly obtained $285,000 in home equity loans from the Congressional Federal Credit Union on two residential properties in Virginia, according to the indictment. The couple then transferred nearly all of those funds — $283,000 — to individuals in Faisalbad, Pakistan, the indictment states. They repaid one loan, but failed to repay $165,000 from another loan.

It is a violation of the credit union’s policies to provide home equity loans in rental properties since it is not the owner’s primary residence.

Awan pleaded not guilty following his arrest at Dulles International Airport last month, and his lawyer complained that his client was only indicted "for working while Muslim."

Alvi left the country with their three daughters in March, according to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent. Alvi had “numerous pieces of luggage” and more than $12,000 in cash, the agent said.

Jewish Republicans reject Trump’s take on Charlottesville violence

Jewish Republicans rejected Donald Trump’s comments in response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but it doesn’t appear the president is facing further consequences from the small but vital GOP constituency over what they saw as a failure to adequately denounce crowds that shouted anti-Semitic chants and hoisted Nazi flags last weekend.

The Republican Jewish Coalition in a statement called for Trump to show greater leadership after he seemed Tuesday to equate neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan demonstrators with those protesting them. Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, would not say whether members plan any further steps to warn the president.

"People are scared and frightened and disgusted by the events of Charlottesville," Brooks told POLITICO on Thursday. "It’s incredible in this time and place in our American history that we’re dealing with the scourge of vile neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It’s just intolerable."

Brooks also would not disclose any conversations with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who sits on the RJC’s board but has not personally weighed in.

Still, some Republican strategists are nervous about turning off a group that regularly votes, raises money and donates to candidates. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her family are Jewish, as are several of the president’s top aides. But his statement that there were “very fine people” amid those protesting the planned removal of a Confederate statue — who chanted, among other things, “Jews will not replace us” — shocked supporters and critics alike.

"Getting this right is life and death for the Republican Party. You can’t have a Republican Party that people believe is a racist party," said Rick Tyler, a Trump critic and former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz, who aggressively courted Republican Jews in his own 2016 presidential bid. "The Republican Jewish community provides a lot of support for the Republican Party, particularly financial support."

The RJC — which asked Trump to “provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and antisemitism” — was more direct than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which issued a statement Thursday urging “all elected officials to reject moral equivalence between those who promote hate and those who oppose it.”

But AIPAC’s statement was nonetheless a striking rebuke given the group’s past praise of Trump’s hawkish stance on Israel and as-yet-unfulfilled vow to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, called on "White Supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis and all groups that preach hate" to be "explicitly condemned." The other, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, followed Trump in placing blame on “both sides” for violence that culminated in the death of a woman after a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters.

But Zeldin added: "These two sides are not equal. They are different."

Nonpartisan Jewish groups, like the Anti-Defamation League, have been more direct in criticizing Trump’s rhetoric.

It’s not the first time Trump has angered the American Jewish community. Many were baffled and offended when his White House put out a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that made no mention of the Jews who were killed.

Fred Zeidman, a member of the RJC board of directors and a former George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, praised his group’s leadership for taking a stand after the Charlottesville violence.

"We know the issues that evolve from remaining silent, and we can’t remain silent," he told POLITICO on Thursday. "We know what happens when we remain silent."

White House hits brakes on infrastructure council

President Donald Trump’s nascent infrastructure council "will not move forward," a White House spokeswoman confirmed today, a day after a revolt over his remarks on a white supremacist protest forced the president to disband two other advisory panels.

The move comes on the heels of Wednesday’s disbanding of two other groups of business leaders who advised Trump on policy and manufacturing issues. Trump announced that the two groups would be dissolved so as not to put pressure on CEOs that made up its membership to resign.

The infrastructure council, which was still being formed, was to be spearheaded by Trump confidants Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth.

The president only issued an executive order last month to formally create the group, which was to have included representatives from the construction industry, transportation, labor and finance.

Corker: ‘Radical changes’ needed from Trump

Republican Sen. Bob Corker slammed President Donald Trump on Thursday, urging the president to start putting the nation’s interests ahead of his own and calling for “radical changes” at the White House.

Speaking to local media in his home state of Tennessee, Corker admonished Trump for his response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and said the president “has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.”

“I do think there need to be some radical changes,” the Senate Foreign Relations chairman said. “The president has not yet, has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs to be successful.

“He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today,” Corker continued. “He’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that. And without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril.”

Corker, who Trump considered as a possible Secretary of State, urged the president to do some “self-reflection” and to start thinking not about what’s best for him as an individual, but what’s best for the country as a whole.

“I think our president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself, move way beyond himself, and move to a place where daily he wakes up thinking about what is best for our nation,” Corker said. “Helping inspire divisions because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues that we have to deal with right now.”

In addition, Corker took aim at Trump for using his Twitter feed to promote a Republican primary challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

“The White House would be well-served to embrace the character, the substance, of someone like Sen. Flake,” Corker said. “He’s one of the finest people I’ve served with.”

DeVos calls views of white nationalists ‘totally abhorrent’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos condemned the views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis "and other racist bigots" as "totally abhorrent to the American ideal," in a memo to staff Thursday.

While she made no mention of President Donald Trump and his statements seeming to legitimize the views of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, she called such ideas "cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong."

In the wake of the protests that left one dead and at least a dozen injured, DeVos acknowledged there is "fear, pain, anger, disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment across America, and I know, too, here within the department."

DeVos’ message, shared with POLITICO, was her first public statement on the issue since Saturday, when she tweeted that she was "disgusted" by the behavior exhibited in Charlottesville and said in a separate tweet, "It is every American’s right to speak their mind, but there is no room for violence or hatred."

But in her memo Thursday, she went much further, saying, "We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. … We must engage, debate and educate. We must remind all what it means to be an American, and while far from perfect, we must never lose sight that America still stands as the brightest beacon for freedom in the world."

She also reminded staff in the memo that "Our department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation."

The memo steers clear of any reference to the president, who on Thursday further inflamed racial tensions when he tweeted his support for “beautiful” Confederate statues. Republican lawmakers, CEOs and military leaders this week have raced to distance themselves from the president after he doubled down on his claim that “both sides” were to blame for the violent clashes.

"My hope is that we will use this as an opportunity to show that what unites and holds America together is far stronger than what seeks to divide and draw us apart," DeVos said in the memo. "We can all play a role. Mentor a student. Volunteer at a school. Lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear."

Since the violence in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, colleges and universities around the country have been on high alert, preparing for an onslaught of demonstrations.

The University of Florida and Texas A&M announced this week that they would cancel planned white nationalist events. Officials at Michigan State University said they are reviewing a similar request.

DeVos had sparked an uproar in February when she said in a statement that historically black colleges and universities “are real pioneers when it comes to school choice." Civil rights and education experts decried the statement as tone-deaf and inaccurate, and graduates in May at an historically black college in Florida turned their backs on DeVos during her commencement speech.

Last week, DeVos told The Associated Press that she "should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country" in those comments.