Family problems and more departures

The Washington Post published a bombshell report that at least four countries had discussed how to use White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s sparse experience, financial troubles and intricate business arrangements to manipulate him.

The security clearance of Kushner has been downgraded. Kushner had been operating with an interim clearance at the “top secret/sensitive compartmented information” level for more than a year. Now he is only authorized to access information at the lower “secret” level.

The news set off rampant speculation among Donald Trump allies that Kushner’s days in the White House might be numbered. Another announcement saw the departure of a top Kushner aide in the White House, deputy communications director Josh Raffel, the third departure of a Kushner ally in the West Wing in as many months.

With the downgrade in clearance, Kushner may not be able to fulfill his job as a foreign policy advisor such as the Middle East peace process – which itself went from not good to worse since Trump announced that it would move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is that advising? He also can’t be in any room where a higher security clearance is required.

He can’t even see intercepted communications or the most secret CIA information about their informants. Unless Kushner is cleared by the FBI to receive a permanent security clearance or gets a waiver from Trump [I can see that happening!], his diminished role will spur fresh speculation about his longevity as a White House staffer.

He also worked on trade deals for the United States’ relationships in Asia has been dying a slow death over the last year due to a combination of his lack of experience, lack of respect from world leaders and the actions of his boss and father-in-law, President Donald Trump. The drop in clearance will also affect Ivanka Trump.

Trump pledged to hire the most qualified people in the world to serve in his administration, and made the alleged mishandling of classified material by his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton a key argument of his campaign. But yet, his “qualified” people have either resigned [more likely fired] or can’t get a top secret security clearance. Yet many others also can’t get a clearance approved.

White House press secretary Sarah “Simpleton” Sanders insisted that the change in Kushner’s security clearance would not impact his standing in the White House. “He is a valued member of the team and will continue to do the important work he has been doing since he started in the administration,” she said. He won’t be too valuable if he doesn’t have the access needed to do his job – maybe except for maintenance work [gardener, pick up trash from baskets, etc.] Trump has the ability to declassify information and could do so in order to allow Kushner to see certain documents, which might not fly well with the national security and intelligence communities. But he doesn’t care about them since has already degraded them in the past.

Kushner’s family real estate group obtained business loans after Kushner met with the company heads in his official government capacity where Kushner met with Joshua Harris, one of the founders of Apollo Global Management, on multiple occasions while advising the Trump administration on infrastructure policy. The size of the loan was triple the size of their average property loan.

As well, Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, met with Kushner in the spring of 2017 and a short time after, the group lent Kushner Companies $325 million for some of its Brooklyn properties.

The chief White House calligrapher has greater access to sensitive information than Kushner with a top secret clearance. The clearance is supposedly required because of the knowledge of the President’s schedule, as well as the calligrapher’s proximity to world leaders.

Not to be outdone by her hubby, US counterintelligence officials are scrutinizing one of Ivanka Trump’s international business deals. The FBI has been looking into the negotiations and financing surrounding Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver. The scrutiny could be a hurdle for the first daughter as she tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as adviser to President Donald Trump. Wonder how her father will respond to this news. Twitter storm against the FBI?

Adding to this is that Trump was already under ethical fire for breaking anti-nepotism conventions by hiring family members.

Trump indirectly notified Chief of Staff John Kelly against removing Kushner’s clearance. So instead, Kelly reduced his clearance. But with Kushner’s job requirements, it is the same as removing as Kushner will now be mostly useless at his job. This could push Trump to remove Kelly from his job. If you remember, Kushner had to adjust his security clearance at least three times to add further information previously left out.

Trump has begun floating possible names for a future chief of staff in conversations with outside advisers. This includes budget director Mick Mulvaney, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

So now Communications Director Hope Hicks has resigned. Hicks explained her decision saying she told colleagues that she had accomplished what she felt she could with a job that made her one of the most powerful people in Washington, and that there would never be a perfect moment to leave.

But one day after she spent hours testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee regarding its investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 presidential election where she acknowledged that she sometimes told white lies for Trump but insisted that she had never done so in regard to the Russia investigation.

Supposedly Trump berated Hicks after her testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. She was considered one of his closest allies. And now? Betrayal?

During Hicks’ testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, she reportedly admitted to telling white lies on behalf of Trump, but said she never had to lie on substantial issues for him. But “It truly was just a setup of this witness [Hicks], who was trying to be forthright and honest,” according to Utah Rep. Chris Stewart. Funny how no one else complained and why 3 days later?

The Supreme Court said that it will stay out of the dispute concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for now, meaning the Trump administration may not be able to end the program March 5 as planned.

Trump right away blamed the Democrats on inaction. Trump has previously claimed his plan will allow 3 times more DACA people than the previous Obama administration. The current DACA program could help protect potentially 1.9 million people [1.3 million at this time] who are eligible – the same as Trump’s plan.

Trump called Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson [the deputy who didn’t enter the school building in Parkland] a “coward” as well as other comments. Not only did Peterson, the armed school resource officer, had not entered the building, but three other deputies were also outside the school and had not entered. The deputies had their pistols drawn and were behind their vehicles and not one of them went into the school. Maybe because you don’t go up against a shooter with a handgun while the shooter has an AR15. Why isn’t Trump going after them?

While Trump is pushing for teachers to be armed at schools, the majority of state governors, at a meeting are against that though saying that teachers are there to teach – not police.

Trump hilariously said he would have stormed into the Florida high school to stop the gunman perpetrating the nation’s latest mass shooting “even if I didn’t have a weapon” as he lambasted the inaction of a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school.

Trump raised eyebrows in a meeting by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people’s firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies. Guarantee the NRA won’t like that or Second Amendment hawks.

Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign used a photo of a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, shooting in an email that asks its recipients to donate money to the campaign. The email contains a photo of 17-year-old survivor in a hospital bed surrounded by her family, Trump and the first lady. Very tacky. A privacy issue?

Trump appears to be backing away from his call to increase the age limit to 21 for some weapons. Surprised? There was a bipartisan bill to “raise the minimum purchase age for non-military buyers from 18 to 21.” But now Trump has indicated how a soldier could be told he or she could use an assault weapon on the battlefield but not at home to protect his or her family.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he isn’t supportive of the proposals to impose new restrictions on gun purchases, telling reporters “we shouldn’t be banning guns for law abiding citizens.” But then he said “we should be focusing on making sure that citizens who shouldn’t get guns in the first place don’t get those guns.” That last part was right but he is assuming like just about every pro-NRA politician that new rules would apply to those who haven’t been in trouble before.

Asked about arming teachers, Ryan suggested that the issue was not something Congress should take the lead on. But Trump is suggesting to do just that and both are gun related which is probably a federal jurisdiction.

The House passed a bill was attached to another a proposal that loosens gun regulations and allows those with permits to carry concealed weapons to legally travel with those firearms to other states. Take them on airplanes?

Florida state House approves only one part of a gun bill – ban bump stocks [sale and possession]. Failed to ban assault weapons, arm teachers or mental health background check.

Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet promoting a false conspiracy theory that claimed that Parkland survivor Lauren Hogg’s older brother, David, had been coached by his father — a former FBI agent — to speak out against President Donald Trump.

Of all the congress members only 6 Republicans did NOT receive any financial support from the NRA. In comparison only 24 Democrats did receive support from them – with the most at just $49,000 for his career. Eight Republican lawmakers have been on the receiving end of at least $1 million in campaign contributions from the NRA over the courses of their careers. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is among them.

The state of Georgia is threatening to kill a tax break on jet fuel for Delta airlines after Delta abandoned its relationship with the NRA unless delta goes back to the status quo. Blackmail? Just over a dozen individuals used Delta’s NRA discount.

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, a frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial race this year, vowed to “kill any tax legislation” that helps Delta unless it reverses course. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” he tweeted. We know where he is getting some of his donations from.

Vermont is home to the nation’s most permissive gun laws saying all you have to do was Google “AR-15 Vermont,” get in touch with a seller, and a few emails later and you could had arranged to exchange the weapon in a parking lot — no ID, background check, license, or wait required.

While some expect Kelly to leave the administration, White House national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster could leave his position in the White House by the end of the month and more likely that McMaster will not return to the military and ultimately will retire as a three-star general.

Out of the blue, Trump wants to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminum. Unsure what brought this on [but with him does anything have a reason?]. It was not immediately clear whether Trump would exempt some countries from the tariffs, as his national security advisers have urged him to do to avoid hurting key US allies. Already the move has divided top advisors and caused the Dow Jones to drop 400 points.

He had tweeted “Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!” If you look at the tweet, it is basically the same word he uses when he thinks the US has had a bad deal. For example, with NAFTA he complains about Canada taking advantage of the US but yet it is Canada that has a trade deficit.

Aside from the industries that use Canadian aluminum and steel, various Trump backers and politicians have already complained about how it will actually hurt Americans in the end. For example, American companies will have to purchase more American steel and aluminum which is more expensive. The extra costs would be passed on those that use them. Molson Coors [which uses aluminum for beer cans] are estimating it will add 10% to the price of a beer can. That could cause job loses because of probable loss in beer sales.

According to a report, special counsel Robert Mueller is asking questions about Trump’s business dealings with Russia before Trump’s campaign, a potentially significant development in the investigation. Mueller is also taking a look at Trump’s finances in the run-up to his decision to run for president.

Trump publicly chastised Attorney General Jeff Sessions again over an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses. He tweeted “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Isn’t this meddling in investigations that involve himself? The attorney general is supposed to be independent – not take orders from the President every time things don’t go his way or has nothing else to tweet about.

Trump’s personal pilot, John Duncan, is on a short list to head the Federal Aviation Administration. [Can Homer Simpson be the new Secretary of the Department of Energy?]

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has called off an official trip to Washington to meet with Trump after a tense phone call brought the two leaders to a policy-driven standstill. Peña Nieto called off the trip in March after Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of a border wall. At least one Mexican official said Trump “lost his temper.”

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has firmly denied reports about its involvement in secret negotiations with a “Russian intermediary” from whom the agency, along with the NSA, allegedly tried to retrieve a trove of stolen hacking tools. “The fictional story that CIA was bilked out of $100,000 is patently false,” the CIA said in a statement. The agency added that the only “people swindled here were James Risen and Matt Rosenberg,” the authors of the Friday reports in the New York Times and the Intercept.

The vague descriptions of the alleged spy saga described how the US spies were conned by a man they believed was linked to Russian intelligence, who fed them $100,000-worth of ‘gossip’ about Trump instead of the material they were after. The National Security Agency (NSA) has not yet officially commented on the issue.
Former adviser to Trump’s campaign Carter Page claims that the US government [i.e. Obama administration] meddled in more on the last election than the Russians. Page always wasn’t working with a “full deck”.

 

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No to Democratic memo, a few resignations, but no shutdown [for now]

The spending bill Donald Trump signed only ensures that the government is funded through March 23 — which means there could be another shutdown in just six weeks. The bill also raises the debt ceiling by the appropriate amount until March 2019.

Trump tweeted “This Bill is a BIG VICTORY for our Military, but much waste in order to get Dem votes. Fortunately, DACA not included in this Bill, negotiations to start now!” Shouldn’t that be “Unfortunately” or he doesn’t want DACA in any legislation. I’m almost sure that anything the Democrats proposed will help people in the US.

Senate leaders unveiled a two-year budget deal, but the plan needed to pass the House where it’s already facing strong headwinds. Some senators from the  Republicans [adding to debt] and Democrats [DACA/Dreamers] are opposed to the bill.

“The other thing is there is a huge hypocrisy factor here,” said Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. “Republicans lambasted President Obama to no end for trillion dollar deficits and now they have put forward a trillion dollar deficit. And I don’t know I think the American people are going to be surprised, upset, hurt that so the so-called conservatives got elected and turned out not to be much different than the people they were criticizing.” Paul is pushing for an amendment to maintain budget caps, but Senate sources say leaders have no plan to give Paul such a concession.

Trump said he supports a government shutdown if Democrats won’t agree to tighten immigration laws, undercutting ongoing bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill. Not much of a negotiation if you are trying to force a deal down someone’s throat. “We’ll do a shutdown and it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.” Ummm. “Worth it?”

Trump won’t release the Democratic rebuttal to the Republican intelligence memo alleging FBI abuses of its surveillance authority at this time, and has sent it back to the House Intelligence Committee for changes. The claim is that the Democratic rebuttal contains numerous classified and sensitive sections. But earlier in the day Trump told reporters at the White House “It’s gonna be released soon.”

The FBI and Department of Justice were supposed to verify the Democratic rebuttal didn’t contain anything that could cause a security problem before it got sent to Trump to sign. So if it got sent to Trump, then the FBI and Department of Justice approved of it – which means the rejections is nonsense and/or just political.

Senior aides to Trump knew for months about allegations of domestic abuse levied against top White House staffer Rob Porter by his ex-wives, even as Porter’s stock in the West Wing continued to rise. Trump himself supposedly first learned of the allegations this week but has expressed no sympathy towards the women who are accusing Porter of abuse.

Porter’s ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check. A year into the administration, Porter does not hold a security clearance. Porter has now resigned.

By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff. Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address. Even an ex-girlfriend from 2016 complained about abuse.

Fox News barely mentioned Porter’s issues and resignation unlike other news outlets. [Fox News spent much of the day hyping a debunked story suggesting that former President Barack Obama had waded into the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.]

Add to this mess is that White House communications director Hope Hicks was dating Porter. Hicks helped defend Porter with a supportive statement that was put out in chief of staff John Kelly’s name. Hicks is also caught up in Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice and other matters. She was dating ex-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski earlier in 2016. [Those on Twitter imagine Keri Russell or Allison Williams someday playing Hicks in a movie about how she sabotaged Trump and saved the country.]

Trump seemed to like Porter calling him a very smart person who has a Rhodes Scholar and a law degree. Unsure if true [probably] or a joke [less likely], Trump said he could be a Supreme Court nominee.

Questions will need to be answered such as if Trump knew about Porter’s past as well as how many more staff member in the White House still don’t have the appropriate security credentials [an estimation of between 30-40 require a clearance]. Did Kelly, a former general, ignore this as if he was in the military where abuse tends to sometime go unnoticed?

Speech writer, David Sorensen, who worked for the Council on Environmental Quality, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, has resigned for alleged spousal abuse. He denied the allegations though. His position did not require a security clearance.

To add to the weirdness, after Trump was impressed with the parade in Paris in July, he now wants a parade in Washington – as if there was none before. In Paris, he called it “one of the greatest parades” he had ever seen. Military planners will now look not only at dates and locations for the parade, but also costs, logistics and whether it is feasible to hold a parade displaying large weaponry such as tanks on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Robert O’Neill, the former Navy SEAL, who claims he fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden is blasting Trump’s desire for a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. “A military parade is third world b——-. We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation,” O’Neill tweeted. Will Trump go after the guy who supposedly killed Bin Laden and face a probably backlash?

Jared Kushner is trying to have a request of exactly who are the major foreign shareholders in Kushner Cos, the holding company primarily controlled by his family.

District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose impartiality was questioned by then-candidate Trump because of his Mexican heritage, is set to hear a case involving the Trump’s border wall. The case, which is being brought by the state of California and multiple groups, challenges the Department of Homeland Security’s power to waive environmental laws in their construction of a border wall.

Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the country’s top law enforcement agency has been under attack by Trump. Brand’s profile had risen in part because she is next in the line of succession behind the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein – who has been under attack by Trump on the Russian investigation. Brand’s assistant, Currie Gunn, has also left the department.

Twitter announced that more Russia-backed troll accounts were active during the 2016 US presidential election than previously thought. The social network also announced that it plans to notify some 677,775 users who either followed, retweeted or liked a tweet from more than 50,000 automated bots Russia-backed Twitter accounts during the 2016 election cycle. Add Internet Research Agency (IRA) with a total of 3,814 accounts.

Mike Revis, a 27 year old, won a state House seat in a Missouri district Trump won by 28 points, making this the 35th legislative seat Democrats have flipped nationally since the inauguration. Missouri is a deep “red” state.

In a series of hypothetical 2020 one-on-one contests conducted by SSRS, Trump trails Sen. Bernie Sanders by a 55% to 42% margin among registered voters. He lags further behind former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide 57% to 40% split, and trails television personality Oprah Winfrey by a 51% to 42% divide. Neither Sanders, 76, and Biden, 75, has ruled out a presidential bid in 2020.

While unemployment is quite low in the US, it is the Democratic leaning counties that are scooping up most of the jobs. Of the 30 counties that generated the largest share of new jobs from 2014 through 2016, Trump carried only two.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won fewer than 500 counties and Trump won more than 2,600. But the counties that Clinton carried accounted for 72% of the nation’s increased economic output from 2014 through 2016, the most recent years for which figures are available, according to Brookings. The Clinton counties accounted for 66% of the new job growth over that period as well.

Trump has found an excuse not to go to England with all the backlash: He is complaining that the cost of the new embassy in London was too much. Yup.

With all the hoopla regarding the US announcing that their embassy will move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv against the majority of the international community, Trump claims that they are “way ahead of schedule by years.” He said the US anticipates “having a small version of it open sometime next year.” How does he define this? Well, the embassy will be moving into another building the US currently occupies in Jerusalem.

Basically, it looks like a “token” embassy housing minimal staff while [for a while at least] most of the embassy staff will still be in Tel Aviv. This is basically the equivalent of saying you moved to a new house and just dropped off a box in the new house but still live in the old one.

Microsoft said in its earnings report that it took a $13.8 billion charge in the final three months of 2017 due to the Trump tax bill signed into law in December. With the charge, Microsoft posted a $6.3 billion net loss for the quarter. Without the charge, Microsoft’s profits hit $8.7 billion, up 10% from the same period a year earlier. Microsoft did not specify whether the charge was due to a new repatriation tax.

In November, Moody’s estimated that U.S. companies held about $1.4 trillion in cash overseas. Five large tech companies — Microsoft, Apple, Google, Oracle and Cisco — accounted for nearly $600 billion of that.