How Trump is changing the face of legal immigration


A new U.S. citizen waves an American flag while departing a naturalization ceremony on March 20 in Los Angeles. The naturalization ceremony welcomed more than 7,200 immigrants from 100-plus countries. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As the national immigration debate swirls around the effort to discourage illegal immigration by separating families at the border, the Trump administration is making inroads into another longtime priority: reducing legal immigration.

The number of people receiving visas to move permanently to the United States is on pace to drop 12 percent in President Trump’s first two years in office, according to a Washington Post analysis of State Department data.

Among the most affected are the Muslim-majority countries on the president’s travel ban list — Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya and Somalia — where the number of new arrivals to the United States is heading toward an 81 percent drop by Sept. 30, the end of the second fiscal year under Trump.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld that ban, paving the way for an even more dramatic decline in arrivals from those countries.

Legal immigration from all Muslim-majority countries is on track to fall by nearly a third.

The Trump administration has argued that its immigration policies are driven by national security concerns and an effort to preserve jobs for Americans.

“The history of immigration policy in the United States is one of ebbs and flows,” said a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Yet in recent years, the U.S. has [had] record immigration without any consideration of this influx’s impact on American workers or wages.”

Some public officials and immigration experts have raised concerns that the administration’s approach targets certain nationalities, discriminating against those from poorer and nonwhite countries.

The Post’s analysis also found immigration declines among nationalities not targeted by Trump’s travel ban, including nearly all of the countries that typically receive the largest number of immigrant visas from the United States. The number of immigrant visas granted to people from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, China, India, Vietnam, Haiti, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Pakistan and Afghanistan has also declined. Among the 10 countries that send the highest number of immigrants to the United States annually, only El Salvador is projected to receive more visas under Trump: an increase of 17 percent in his first two fiscal years.

The number of immigrant visas approved for Africans is on pace to fall 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the flow of legal immigrants from Europe has increased slightly, though the total number of visas is still much smaller than that from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

It is unclear whether part of the drop in immigrant visas reflects declining interest in immigrating to the United States, because the State Department did not release visa application data, saying it doesn’t publish that information.

The number of people apprehended trying to cross the border illegally from Mexico declined precipitously during Trump’s first fiscal year. While outside experts suspect Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has deterred some legal immigration, too, they cautioned that visa backlogs and processing times are so extensive that even a significant drop in applicants is unlikely to put a major dent in the same year’s immigrant visa issuances.

The shift in legal immigration is a reversal of the trend under President Barack Obama. During Obama’s time in office, immigrant visas increased by 33 percent, surging to 617,752 in fiscal 2016, the highest level in decades.

That surge occurred almost entirely in the last two years of Obama’s presidency. Despite declines since then, the Trump administration still will be providing more immigrant visas than Obama did in earlier years of his presidency.

Visa data is recorded by fiscal year, so The Post used October 2008 through September 2016 to approximate Obama-era trends, and October 2016 through May 2018 — the most recent data available — to approximate Trump-era trends and to project through the end of his second fiscal year in September.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the rate of immigration under Obama as dangerous and unchecked. He called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He has vowed to bring about “extreme vetting” and to keep out those who don’t share “our values.”

His stance on immigration fueled his rise to the White House; 64 percent of voters who identified immigration as the most important issue facing the country voted for Trump, according to exit polls.

The economic effect

Trump has said he wants additional limits on immigration in part because he believes new arrivals create undue competition for American workers.

But some of Trump’s critics have alleged that his administration is seeking to slow the transition to a majority-minority U.S. population, citing his disparaging remarks about Muslims and his characterization earlier this year of Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.”

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said earlier this year that Trump’s “Make America Great Again agenda is really a Make America White Again agenda.” The administration denies that its immigration policies are discriminatory.

Trump’s economic argument against immigration comes as the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8 percent, the lowest level in nearly two decades. Some American businesses are clamoring for workers, and the slowing of legal immigration could further strain a job market in which a record 6.6 million positions are unfilled.

The Post’s analysis focuses solely on immigration visas that allow people abroad to move permanently to the United States with the intention of obtaining citizenship — in other words, the visas that more closely anticipate long-term demographic shifts in the American population. The analysis does not include temporary visas, such as the popular H-1B visas for skilled workers, the H-2B visas for seasonal workers or student visas.

Federal data shows that applications for the H-1B visas have fallen for the first time in five years, according to a March report by immigration lawyers. The report cited a barrage of new and unprecedented application requirements, as well as reports of administration plans to further limit the visas.

With certain industries facing worker shortages, some economists argue that new limits on immigration could have unintended consequences for the nation’s economy.

“In general, the consensus of economists is that immigration on average has a strong positive effect on the American economy,” said Giovanni Peri, the chair of the economics department at the University of California at Davis. “The big picture really is that this cut in the number of all immigrants — high- and low-skill — is going to have an impact by slowing the economy.”

Executive power

Legal immigration is believed to outpace illegal immigration by about 3 to 1, according to statistics collected by the Pew Research Center, and scaling back legal arrivals has been a top priority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser Stephen Miller and some other administration officials.

Last year, the administration backed a failed Senate bill that analysts said would have cut legal immigration by half by eliminating certain visa types. Congress last month voted down another administration-backed measure to curb legal immigration and did the same to a third immigration bill on Wednesday.

But the Trump administration has managed to effect significant changes in immigration without Congress, in part by relying on administrative guidance handed down to consular officials to change the way immigrant visas are considered and processed, administration officials and outside experts said. The result is a shift in the legal immigration process in line with the vision of Miller , the adviser who officials say sits at the helm of immigration policy decisions.

“Miller sees consular officers as the tip of the spear in his effort to control who is getting into the country,” said one high-ranking national security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media. “He sees it as a generational thing, like he has to retrain them.”

Under the previous administration, case officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processed immigrant visa applications with “a culture of getting to ‘yes,’ ” said another high-ranking administration official familiar with immigration policy deliberations.

Now those officers, along with consular officers at the State Department, feel empowered to exercise their own discretion, take more time scrutinizing each applicant and more strictly enforce existing laws on inadmissibility, the official said.

The longer vetting process results in fewer approved applications per month.

“If you’re empowering people to spend more time vetting an application, and you’re not having a culture of getting to ‘yes’ but having a culture of make the right decision, it’s axiomatic that you will not be able to process applications for immigration benefits at the same speed,” the official said.

In a March report, analysts at the Migration Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, noted that these bureaucratic changes have “gone largely unnoticed.”

“Without need for congressional approval, the administration has initiated several small but well-calibrated actions through regulations, administrative guidelines, and immigration application processing changes,” the report stated.

Amendments to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual in January expanded the burden of proof for visa applicants to show that they will not become “a public charge,” which is grounds for denial. Immigration analysts who have reviewed leaked policy drafts expect the administration to publish new rules soon to expand further the terms of inadmissibility.

“It’s intended to have an effect on the numbers,” said Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s intended to put more rigor into the visa issuance process. But almost by definition, that’s going to likely result in more denials.”

‘Arbitrary questions’ for visas

The largest decline in approvals is occurring in the family-based visas that allow U.S. citizens and legal residents to sponsor the immigration of relatives to the United States — what Trump has labeled “chain migration.” Special immigrant visas that are predominantly reserved for the Iraqis and Afghans who served the U.S. government in war zones also have been reduced significantly.

Margaret Wong, an Ohio-based immigration attorney with offices across the country, said her practice has experienced an increase in family-based immigrant visa applications since Trump took office. More people are applying out of fear that the administration will soon eliminate those types of visas, she said.

But immigration attorneys are having less success getting the applications approved.

Applicants are “facing arbitrary questions that are really difficult for them to answer, and then they’re getting denials for things that attorneys have never seen before,” said Kristie De Peña, director of immigration and senior counsel at the Niskanen Center, an immigrant advocacy group. “We’re hearing that pretty much across the board from all the attorneys that practice with us.”

There have been similar trends in other immigrant categories. Refugee arrivals are on track to fall by 75 percent from 2016 levels, according to federal data.

With just three months before the end of the fiscal year, the United States is only a third of the way to its refu­gee cap for Africa and Latin America and less than half of the way to its cap for Asia. But it has surpassed the smaller cap set for European refugees, said analysts at the Niskanen Center.

Trump has consistently emphasized his intention to transform the U.S. immigration system into one based on “merit” rather than family ties, preferring those with desired skills and financial resources who also speak English.

In his State of the Union address, Trump said he planned to accomplish this in part by eliminating a vast subset of family-based visas, along with the diversity visa lottery, which provides about 50,000 immigrant visas to underrepresented nationalities each year.

Asked whether any of the specific regional or country declines in immigrant visa numbers are intentional, one of the high-ranking administration officials said that the government’s system for administering visas is “thoroughly egalitarian.”

“No one in our government is making any judgment based upon anybody’s national characteristics — there’s no form of discrimination tolerated,” the official said. “What we are talking about is objectively applying the laws of the United States and making thoroughly objective national security determinations based on real-world facts, and nothing else.”

The Daily 202: Visuals and ego motivate Trump to take a harder line on Putin

 1:01
Russia expels 60 U.S. diplomats, closes St. Petersburg consulate

The move comes in response to the March 26 expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S. and a number of other countries. 

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: 

Donald Trump has defiantly refused to criticize Vladimir Putin in public, even as he’s authorized increasingly hawkish policies to counter Russian bellicosity. Administration officials are signaling this may soon change, and the president’s alpha male inclinations are a big reason.

The United States this week ordered the largest expulsion of Russian spies in U.S. history, which prompted the Kremlin to retaliate on Thursday with the expulsion of 60 American officials. Two weeks ago, Trump agreed to impose sanctions on 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 election. In December, he authorized the export of lethal weapons to help Ukraine fend off Russian-backed separatists — going further than Barack Obama ever would.

But just 10 days ago, the president called Putin and congratulated him for securing another term even after his national security team gave him briefing material that said, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” Trump caught aides off guard by inviting Putin to meet soon, and he did not broach the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil — the brazen attack that has prompted the Western powers to kick out so many Russian officers.

Two fresh stories offer a revealing window into Trump’s psychology and how he’s been persuaded to take a harder line toward the Kremlin despite his personal reticence to do so:

— John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey have inside-the-room reporting from the session at which Trump made his decision about how to respond to the poisoning of Skripal: “The three options presented to the president were described as ‘light, medium and heavy’ by one administration official … The ‘light’ option called for expelling roughly 30 spies while leaving the Seattle consulate intact … The ‘medium’ option, which the president ultimately chose, expelled 48 officials at the embassy in Washington and 12 at the U.N. mission in New York and shuttered the Seattle consulate. … U.S. officials declined to spell out the ‘heavy’ option, to avoid previewing steps the president could take in response to Moscow’s retaliation, but one official noted that U.S. counterintelligence is aware of well over 40 Russian spies operating in the United States who were not included in the initial purge.”

The administration official described the internal debate using boxing metaphors: “If you go heavy now and the Russians really retaliate, we would be more limited in what we can do later,” this person said. “With the medium option, you’re throwing a solid punch but withholding a fist. The president was persuaded by that option.”

— A new report from NBC quotes multiple senior administration officials saying on background that the puzzling divide between Trump’s policy decisions and public posture on Russia stems from his stubborn refusal to be seen as appeasing the media or critics who question his silence or kind words for Putin: “Behind the scenes, however, Trump has recently taken a sharper tone on Putin, administration officials said, but the shift seems more a reaction to the Russian leader challenging the president’s strength than a new belief that he’s an adversary,” per Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker.

A pivotal moment came at the start of this month when Putin, in the Russian equivalent of our State of the Union address, boasted about new nuclear-capable weapons that can bypass any missile defense system. To make his point, he showed an animated video simulating an attack on the United States — including missiles raining down on the part of Florida where Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club is located. That “really got under the president’s skin,” a White House official told NBC, prompting him to call up the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. to say Putin sounded dangerous and the four of them must stick together.

During the same call he congratulated Putin, Trump also told him that he hoped his announcement about the missiles was just rhetoric designed to get reelected. The president noted that he just got $700 billion for defense in the new omnibus spending bill.

“If you want to have an arms race, we can do that,” Trump told Putin, according to NBC. “But I’ll win.”

 0:42
Lavrov: Russia to expel same number of diplomats as West

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at news conference March 29 that the Kremlin would retaliate against countries who had expelled Russian diplomats. 

— A sign of the times: Russia’s new ambassador to the United States is having trouble securing meetings with senior U.S. leaders, who are afraid of appearing too friendly. From Politico’s Burgess Everett: “In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) earlier this month, Anatoly Antonov asked for help in obtaining meetings with a slew of U.S. lawmakers and officials. … Antonov went on to list 20 top U.S. elected and administration officials that have refused or ignored his requests for meetings. White House chief of staff John Kelly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Defense Department undersecretary of defense for policy John Rood are all listed as ‘officially’ declining Antonov’s overtures.” The ambassador’s list also included the vice president and several Cabinet members.

— Some good news: Poisoning victim Yulia Skripal has just come out of critical condition. Her father, Sergei, remains in stable but critical condition. (New York Times)

THE INVESTIGATIONS:

— “Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rebuffed — at least for now — a call from Republican leaders to appoint a second special counsel to look into the FBI’s handling of its most high-profile probes and announced that he has asked the U.S. attorney in Utah to spearhead a broad review,” Matt Zapotosky reports. “He revealed he had named U.S. Attorney John W. Huber to lead a review of the topics that the legislators had requested he explore. Those topics include aspects of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and several matters related to Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation. … Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz already has been probing aspects of the Clinton email case, and he announced Wednesday that he would review the surveillance of [Carter] Page.”

— Ted Malloch, who last year claimed he was the president’s pick for E.U. ambassador, was detained for FBI questioning upon arrival to the United States and issued a subpoena to testify before Mueller’s probe. The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports: “[Malloch] said he was interrogated by the FBI at Boston’s Logan airport on Wednesday following a flight from London and questioned about his involvement in the Trump campaign. In a statement sent to the Guardian, Malloch, who described himself as a policy wonk and defender of Trump, said the FBI also asked him about his relationship with Roger Stone, the Republican strategist, and whether he had ever visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has resided for nearly six years.”

— Robert Mueller’s prosecutors told Rick Gates last year they didn’t need his cooperation against Paul Manafort, his former business partner. Instead, they wanted his help with investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. From CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez: “[Gates] never grew close to Trump, but he had ties with other members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and Tom Barrack, a fundraiser and close friend of Trump’s. He also developed a reputation for keeping tabs on what others were up to … So while he may not have participated in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, he may still have knowledge of the meeting or whether those Russians were ever introduced to Trump himself.”

— The FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union years earlier than was previously known, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine: “In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia. … [T]alks with Trump’s company were abandoned after [the Russian] and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there … [T]he FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.”

— Mueller is exploring events at the 2016 Republican National Convention, including how the party’s platform was changed to become more pro-Russia, per Reuters. The special counsel’s team is looking into a convention-related event attended by both Sessions and then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

— The Senate Judiciary Committee requested communications from two Trump campaign advisers who went on to work in the White House. From Karoun Demirjian: “In a letter to Trump campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) requested the ‘responsive emails’ of John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn. Mashburn, who served as policy director for the Trump campaign, now works as deputy Cabinet secretary in the Trump administration, while Dearborn, who joined the campaign after several years as an aide to [Sessions], worked as the president’s deputy chief of staff until announcing his resignation in December.”

— A GoFundMe page set up to help fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe’s legal defense fund raised nearly $300,000 in seven hours. (Reuters)

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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Zachary Cruz, the brother of the Parkland shooting suspect, was sentenced to six months’ probation. He pleaded no contest to trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and was forbidden from returning to the school during his probation. (Lindsey Bever and Marwa Eltagouri)
  2. A new report found the majority of mass violence incidents were preceded by behavior from attackers that worried others. The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center looked at 28 mass attacks carried out last year and found 4 out of 5 attackers “engaged in communications or exhibited behaviors that caused concern in others.” (Mark Berman)
  3. Facebook has started fact-checking photos and videos. The effort, meant to combat fake news, was rolled out in France with Agence France-Presse and will soon expand to other countries. (Bloomberg News)
  4. A battle over a pension fund has divided the Pennsylvania town where Peeps are made. Just Born Quality Confections, which produces the popular Easter candy, wants to block new employees from enrolling in the multi-employer pension previously offered to workers, which could jeopardize funds for retirees. (Damian Paletta)
  5. Arizona teachers are threatening to strike for a pay increase. The educators, who are among the lowest paid in the nation, are demanding a 20 percent raise and a restoration of school funding to 2008 levels. (Moriah Balingit)
  6. Adnan Syed, whose case was featured on the podcast “Serial,” had his conviction vacated. An appeals panel ruled Syed should be granted a new trial in the murder and kidnapping case of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. (New York Times)
  7. Health officials in England reported a super-resistant strain of gonorrhea. According to a case report from Public Health England, a man with the sexually transmitted disease still tested positive after being treated by two common antibiotics. The case follows warning from health officials that the common infection is becoming harder to treat. (Lindsey Bever)
  8. A California judge ruled coffee companies must carry a cancer warning label. A nonprofit had sued Starbucks and 90 other companies for failing to properly disclose information on acrylamide, a carcinogen produced in the roasting process. In recent years, other health organizations have expressed eased concerns about the effects of coffee, with some even saying it may be beneficial for one’s health. (AP)

PALACE INTRIGUE:

— Many were caught off-guard by the nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson to be VA secretary — including Jackson himself. Lisa Rein, Seung Min Kim, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey report: “Jackson was taken aback by his nomination, said senior White House officials … After aides gauged his interest in recent days, he hesitated to take on such a big job. But the president continued to push and told his senior staff Monday that the doctor was his top choice. A senior White House official described an informal interview process, without the extensive vetting that typically accompanies a Cabinet selection.”

— White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “had spoken with David Shulkin by phone Wednesday morning, reassuring the now-former VA secretary that he wouldn’t be fired by tweet that afternoon. Hours later, Kelly had to phone Shulkin again telling him plans had changed,” per Politico’s Lorraine Woellert, Eliana Johnson and Connor O’Brien.

— That’s part of a pattern: Kelly continues to lose standing with Trump, as the president makes more major decisions without asking for his chief’s guidance. From Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs: “Kelly wasn’t with the president last week when Trump abruptly decided to oust H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and replace him with John Bolton. Just two people were in the room for that decision: Trump and Bolton. And Kelly is rarely on the line any more when Trump calls foreign leaders. Last week, when Trump spoke with [Putin] days before the U.S. decided to expel dozens of Russian diplomats, Kelly wasn’t on the call.”

A HOPE-LESS WHITE HOUSE:

— Hope Hicks has officially left the White House, leaving no direct successor to serve as a check on Trump’s impulses. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report: “From time to time, she advised him on whether an angry Twitter post he wanted to send would be in his best political interests. From time to time, according to a former White House official, she would tell him that it was. … There is a palpable worry among those in the West Wing about who the president will now confide in — and how many other people might be able to occasionally pull him back — now that Ms. Hicks is gone. She is also among the people the staff relied on to bolster flagging morale — one White House official described her departure as a mother leaving her children behind. To cut the tension in a chaotic workplace, Ms. Hicks baked cookies for aides on Valentine’s Day, swapped country music song recommendations and texted her colleagues funny video clips.”

Kelly has told several people he may leave the role of communications director open for now: “But Tony Sayegh, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, is said to be up for consideration for the job, along with Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications. Another possible choice is Kellyanne Conway, who, crucially, is one of few senior aides able to communicate on Mr. Trump’s wavelength, as Ms. Hicks could. For now, at least, the small office next to the Oval Office, a space reserved for a Trump confidante, will be filled by Dan Scavino, the director of social media … ”

— Conway’s husband has deleted a string of tweets critical of Trump as his wife is considered for Hicks’s role. From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond: “George Conway, a conservative lawyer Trump once considered nominating as solicitor general, deleted several tweets that called attention to Trump’s legal woes, his difficulty in finding his next communications director and the White House’s later debunked denials of staff shake-ups. Most notably, Conway deleted a tweet that called Trump’s denials of reports that later turned out to be true ‘absurd’ and sarcastically noted that ‘people are banging on the doors to be his communications director.’”

— Several of Trump’s outside advisers have told him he does not need a communications director or even a chief of staff. From CNN’s Kevin Liptak: “Trump has absorbed the advice, but offered little indication whether he’s interested in taking it … He’s been warned by other confidants that it’s impossible to run the West Wing without a chief of staff. There are no signs Trump is ready to dismiss [Kelly]. But the option of running his White House without a chief of staff has been planted in Trump’s mind, and he’s not rejected it outright …”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

— “Wooing Saudi Business, Tabloid Mogul Had a Powerful Friend: Trump,” by the New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg, Kate Kelly, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Mike McIntire: “In July, David J. Pecker, the chairman of the company that owns The National Enquirer, visited his old friend President Trump at the White House. The tabloid publisher took along a special guest, Kacy Grine, a French businessman who advises one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men and sometimes acts as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western businesses. … Before moving on to dinner with the group, the president had a photographer snap pictures of the guests standing with him behind his desk [in the Oval Office]. Mr. Pecker has long used his media empire to protect Mr. Trump’s image. … The night of the dinner, Mr. Pecker got something from Mr. Trump: an unofficial seal of approval from the White House.”

— EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent much of his first year in Washington living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist. ABC News’s John Santucci, Matthew Mosk and Stephanie Ebbs report: “The price tag on Pruitt’s rental arrangement is one key question when determining if it constitutes an improper gift, ethics experts [said]. … [The lobbyist, J. Steven Hart,] confirmed … that Pruitt had lived in the flat, which is owned by a limited liability company that links to an address listed to Hart and his wife Vicki Hart, a lobbyist with expertise in the healthcare arena.”

— Pruitt’s lease allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom – but only on nights he slept there. Bloomberg’s Jennifer A Dlouhy and Jennifer Jacobs report: “White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about his lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made. … In all, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months, according to copies of the checks reviewed by Bloomberg. Those checks show varying amounts paid on sporadic dates — not a traditional monthly ‘rent payment’ of the same amount each month.”

— The EPA’s senior counsel for ethics said in a statement the living arrangement was “a routine business transaction and permissible even if from a personal friend.”

— The new CDC director addressed the agency and vowed to uphold science in his new role. Lena H. Sun reports: “The 66-year-old [Robert Redfield Jr.], a longtime AIDS researcher appointed to the job a week ago, was overcome by emotion twice during his brief remarks and a question-and-answer session. The University of Maryland medical professor had sought the top job at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health for more than a decade. … Several staff members noted his strong embrace of science and said they were especially gratified to hear him say that if the CDC has evidence to support a public health intervention, the intervention should be applied.”

— Molly Ball interviewed Sessions for a Time Magazine cover story“The broken relationship [with Trump] has turned the job of a lifetime into an exercise in humiliation. Rumors that Sessions’ neck is on the chopping block are constant … As Sessions and I spoke on [a government] plane, he was headed to Nashville to give a speech to a police chiefs’ convention … All the while, Fox News played on mute above his head, its chyrons questioning whether Sessions was about to be fired.”

The profile describes the A.G. as “the most effective enforcer of the President’s agenda”: “Even if his tenure ends tomorrow, Sessions would leave a legacy that will affect millions of Americans. He has dramatically shifted the orientation of the Justice Department, pulling back from police oversight and civil rights enforcement and pushing a hard-line approach to drugs, gangs and immigration violations. He has cast aside his predecessors’ attempts to rectify inequities in the criminal-justice system in favor of a maximalist approach to prosecuting and jailing criminals. He has rescinded the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and reversed its stances on voting rights and transgender rights. … He stepped up deportation orders and sued California over sanctuary cities. He has embraced Trump’s call to impose the death penalty on some drug dealers … Emphasizing treatment for drug addicts isn’t just ineffective, according to Sessions — it’s dangerous.”

 3:05
Trump’s speech on infrastructure, and many other topics, in three minutes

President Trump on March 29 unveiled a plan in Richfield, Ohio, to modernize U.S. infrastructure. He also spoke about North Korea, the midterms and Syria. 

THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:

— Trump traveled to Ohio to discuss his infrastructure initiative but ended up veering way off script. Philip Rucker reports: “Trump threatened to delay finalizing his renegotiated trade deal with South Korea until after he meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and resolves the nuclear confrontation with Kim’s rogue nation. … Regarding his still-unscheduled upcoming meeting with Kim, Trump said, ‘If it’s no good, we’re walking, and if it’s good, we will embrace it.’ … [H]e zigzagged from his prepared text on infrastructure policy to his thoughts on issues of the day, such as this week’s debut of the remake of ‘Roseanne.’ ‘Look at her ratings!’ the president said of Roseanne Barr, the Trump supporter who is the show’s star.”

— The administration is abandoning the policy of automatically releasing pregnant immigrants from detention. From CNN’s Tal Kopan: “The change in policy could pave the way for more pregnant women to be held in detention facilities while they await lengthy court proceedings about whether they can stay in the US, facilities that are already decried by critics for tough conditions.”

— Trump administration officials are debating rolling back Obama-era regulations on federal fuel-efficiency standards despite objections from automakers. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “The internal negotiations over relaxing carbon-emissions limits for cars and SUVs slated to be sold in model years 2022 to 2025 underscore the challenge officials face in trying to fulfill President Trump’s 2017 promise to ease the regulatory burden on Detroit. Some of the same companies that had pressed for action worry that they will be forced to comply with two standards: the stricter specifications that California imposes on its massive auto market and a separate requirement for the rest of the country.”

MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

— Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) retained her chief of staff for three months after learning he left a death threat for a co-worker he previously dated. Elise Viebeck reports: “‘You better f—–g reply to me or I will f—–g kill you,’ Tony Baker said in the May 5, 2016, [voice mail] left for Anna Kain, a former Esty aide Baker had once dated. … According to emails obtained by The Post, Esty found out about the episode within a week. … Baker did not leave for three months. By his last day on Aug. 12, according to documents Esty provided to The Post, he and Esty had co-written a positive recommendation letter he could use in a job search and signed a legal document preventing her from disparaging him or discussing why he left.” In response to the story, Esty said she would improve how she runs her office and reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the roughly $5,000 Baker received in severance.

— A federal judge denied Stormy Daniels’s request for an expedited jury trial and a deposition from Trump in her case against the president. From Mark Berman and Frances Stead Sellers: “The request for an expedited jury trial and limited discovery — including a deposition of Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen — was deemed ‘premature and must be denied’ because some questions may wind up being answered by a future petition from Trump and Cohen.” But Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, vowed to refile the motion.

— Cohen’s lawyer asserted Trump did not know about the $130,000 hush-money payment made to Daniels, which could undermine the adult-film star’s nondisclosure agreement. Aaron Blake explains: “Schwartz argued on CNN that the NDA would still be valid because Trump was merely a third-party beneficiary, but some experts are dubious. … David Super, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Schwartz’s admission was ‘amazing’ and could even lead to legal jeopardy. ‘If true, that opens up Cohen and anyone else involved in soliciting the agreement to fraud charges because the agreement certainly purports to make commitments, beyond the money, that only Trump could make,’ Super said.”

— John Kricfalusi, the creator of the cartoon “Ren & Stimpy,” was accused of preying on his underage fans. BuzzFeed News’s Ariane Lange writes: “In the summer of 1997, before [Robyn Byrd’s] senior year of high school, [Kricfalusi] flew her to Los Angeles again, where Byrd had an internship at Spumco, Kricfalusi’s studio, and lived with him as his 16-year-old girlfriend and intern. After finishing her senior year in Tucson, the tiny, dark-haired girl moved in with Kricfalusi permanently at age 17. She told herself that Kricfalusi was helping to launch her career; in the end, she fled animation to get away from him.” The animator confirmed the relationship through an attorney’s statement reading, in part, “For a brief time, 25 years ago, he had a 16-year-old girlfriend. Over the years John struggled with what were eventually diagnosed mental illnesses in 2008.”

 1:09
Fox News advertisers face pressure to quit. Again.

Teen activist David Hogg is calling for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s advertisers. It’s not the first time time Fox News sponsors have faced pressure. 

FLORIDA FALLOUT:

— Fox News host Laura Ingraham apologized after seven companies announced they would pull ads from her show because she taunted Parkland survivor David Hogg for being rejected by several colleges. Amy B Wang, Allyson Chiu and Tracy Jan report: “[Hogg] mustered the collective power of social media — and his more than 630,000 Twitter followers — and urged them to ‘tweet away’ at her top sponsors to call on them to boycott her TV show, ‘The Ingraham Angle.’ Within 24 hours, several companies responded — among them the pet food brand Nutrish and the home goods retailer Wayfair — announcing over Twitter and in media interviews that they would pull their ads from Ingraham’s show.”

Laura Ingraham

@IngrahamAngle

Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA —incl. @DavidHogg111. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland. For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David…(1/2)

Laura Ingraham

@IngrahamAngle

… immediately after that horrific shooting and even noted how “poised” he was given the tragedy. As always, he’s welcome to return to the show anytime for a productive discussion. WATCH: https://youtu.be/K0v7yxczipo  (2/2)

Hogg did not accept the apology:

David Hogg

@davidhogg111

I 100% agree an apology in an effort just to save your advertisers is not enough. I will only accept your apology only if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight. It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children. https://twitter.com/fred_guttenberg/status/979423447859318786 

— Some Parkland survivors are considering delaying college to focus on their activism. The New York Times’s Audra D. S. Burch reports: “Samantha Fuentes, who was wounded by a bullet and shrapnel in the Parkland attack, is contemplating sitting out the first semester or even the full year to continue the campaign to promote more rigorous gun safety laws. ‘The truth is, us kids, we just want to be the voice for the people we lost, or for people who don’t think they have a voice,’ said Ms. Fuentes, who would like to eventually become an elementary schoolteacher. … Hogg said he was leaning toward taking a gap year to focus on the midterm elections, hoping to rally young voters and target politicians supported by the National Rifle Association.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The former director of the CIA criticized Trump’s pick to lead VA:

John O. Brennan

@JohnBrennan

I personally know and greatly respect Ronny Jackson….as a terrific doctor and Navy officer. However, he has neither the experience nor the credentials to run the very large and complex VA. This is a terribly misguided nomination that will hurt both a good man and our veterans

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics slammed supporters of the ousted VA secretary:

Walter Shaub

@waltshaub

Disappointed to see some folks on TV advocate a free pass for Shulkin on his ethics problems.

Trump’s fans ignore his ethical failures because they like his policies. So do Shulkin’s fans.

You either believe in ethics or you don’t.

Period.

A reporter for the New York Times commented on Trump’s affinity for advisers who “look the part”:

Nick Confessore

@nickconfessore

Was just thinking about how at any private company, a boss who walked around saying that he hired people because they “looked the part” would be a major litigation risk.

Barack Obama’s former chief strategist analyzed reports that outside advisers have told Trump he doesn’t need a chief of staff:

David Axelrod

@davidaxelrod

Here’s the bottom line:@POTUS believes his instincts got him to where he is and he should continue to follow them.@POTUS is tired of people telling him what to do.@POTUS is hearing from acolytes who are affirming these things. Unwisely, I think. https://apple.news/AzA-kkFm_RhCGN6N6xSM1LA 

Trump being told he doesn’t need a communications director or chief of staff

Several of President Donald Trump’s outside advisers have told him over the past week he requires neither a chief of staff nor a communications director, at least in the traditional definition of…

apple.news

A writer for the New Yorker noted this of how the Trump Organization was run:

Adam Davidson

@adamdavidson

The currency of Trump-world was proximity to the boss and the number of boss-assigned projects handled.

Trump was the only person who was aware of all the things he had assigned. But his memory was lousy and his attention to detail non existent.

2.

Adam Davidson

@adamdavidson

This was, perhaps, a smart way to run a business built on shady deals. It’s how the mob has been run at times.

But it is terrifying for it to be the way the WH is run.

If Trump has no Chief of Staff, there is, essentially, no government. No administration.

3.

A House Democrat responded to reports of Trump trying to silence aides about anti-Russia moves:

Ted Lieu

@tedlieu

Dear @realDonaldTrump: What does Putin have on you? Why do you act like you are afraid of him? Many Americans would like to know. https://twitter.com/kylegriffin1/status/979470772380098560 

Republican lawmakers applauded Trump’s infrastructure speech:

Shelley Moore Capito

@SenCapito

Great to hear @POTUS share his vision for today. This is an opportunity both to rebuild our roads & bridges & to build a brighter future for our country through & other important investments. Look forward to working together on this priority.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) criticized a “balanced-budget amendment” being proposed by House Republicans as a purely political symbol:

Senator Bob Corker

@SenBobCorker

Republicans control the House, Senate and White House. If we were serious about balancing the budget, we would do it. But instead of doing the real work, some will push this symbolic measure so they can feel good when they go home to face voters. https://wapo.st/2E4ZZ5X 

Republicans consider ‘balanced-budget amendment’ after adding more than $1 trillion to the deficit

The plan is expected to have virtually no chance of passing.

washingtonpost.com

One of Al Franken’s best friends, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, attacked Kirsten Gillibrand for leading the charge to push him out of the Senate:

Norman Ornstein

@NormOrnstein

Democrats can thank Kristen Gillibrand for making Minnesota a focus for huge sums for a Senate race that will drain Democratic dollars from other contests https://twitter.com/mattdickinson44/status/979367241534857216 

A Times reporter pushed back:

Women of the Senate pushed for change to the chamber’s process for addressing sexual harassment complaints:

Sen. Maria Cantwell

@SenatorCantwell

RT if you agree: Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. That’s why I joined every single woman in the Senate this week to call for legislation to update & strengthen the procedures available to survivors in congressional workplaces.

A Post reporter commented on congressional offices’ handling of sexual harassment:

Elise Viebeck

@eliseviebeck

It has struck me in the last six months that even as politics becomes increasingly professionalized, congressional offices remain among the most tribal environments in the space.

Elise Viebeck

@eliseviebeck

Many staffers — particularly young ones — absorb an implicit lesson. It’s that your purpose is not so much serving constituents or advocating for policy change on the Hill. It’s about ensuring your boss has a smooth ride to reelection, even if that means burying misconduct.

Americans predicted Trump’s chances of winning reelection:

Manu Raju

@mkraju

CNN POLL CONDUCTED BY SSRS
March 22-25
Think Trump Will
Win or Lose
2020 Reelection Bid?

Win 40%
Lose 54%

But a CNN anchor provided this reality check:

Jake Tapper

@jaketapper

Reminder: October 25, 2016 — 68% said they expected a Clinton win. https://twitter.com/mkraju/status/979388631508013056 

Lawmakers recognized National Vietnam Veterans Day:

Rep. Martha Roby

@RepMarthaRoby

Today is National Vietnam Veterans Day, an important time to honor the sacrifice of those who served in the Vietnam War. Please join me in saying “thank you” to all who served! 🇺🇸

A Senate Democrat looked back at the Women’s March:

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Kamala Harris

@KamalaHarris

to the Women’s March. A day that reminded us there’s nothing more powerful than a group of determined sisters marching alongside with their partners and their determined sons and brothers and fathers, standing up for what we know is right.

And the District’s cherry blossoms season has begun:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Politico, “Federal workers spill on life in Trump’s Washington,” by Andrew Restuccia: “One Health and Human Services employee swore off online dating after potential suitors repeatedly got upset that he worked for the Trump administration. An Education Department fellow eagerly returned to teaching after listening to Betsy DeVos bash public schools. And one Environmental Protection Agency official said staffers are distraught at having to personally dismantle regulations they spent years crafting. This is Donald Trump’s government 14 months into his presidency.”

— BuzzFeed News, “Growth At Any Cost: Top Facebook Executive Defended Data Collection In 2016 Memo — And Warned That Facebook Could Get People Killed,” by Ryan Mac, Charlie Warzel and Alex Kantrowitz: “‘So we connect more people,’ [VP Andrew Bosworth] wrote in [one] section of the memo. ‘That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.’ … The Bosworth memo reveals the extent to which Facebook’s leadership understood the physical and social risks the platform’s products carried — even as the company downplayed those risks in public. It suggests that senior executives had deep qualms about conduct that they are now seeking to defend.”

— Politico Magazine, “How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries,” by Charlie Mahtesian: “Even though only two states have actually voted so far this primary election season — Texas, a red-state redoubt, and Illinois, a blue-state stronghold — the battle for supremacy this primary season is all but complete. In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.”

— New York Times, “Kathy Griffin Is Returning to TV, and Still Taking On Trump,” by Dave Itzkoff: “Almost a year after Kathy Griffin appeared in a widely condemned photograph that depicted her holding the severed head of President Trump, this comedian and actress is making a TV comeback of sorts. Ms. Griffin will appear on Tuesday in a special episode of the Comedy Central series ‘The President Show,’ in which she will play Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, the network announced on Thursday. ‘I am kicking the hornet’s nest, as much as I can,’ Ms. Griffin said … ”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Milo Yiannopoulos’ charity for ‘white boys’ winds down as mystery remains over the $100,000 raised,” from NBC News“A charity meant to provide college scholarships for white men started by Milo Yiannopoulos, self-described libertarian and professional internet troll, has shuttered its operations, Yiannopoulos confirmed to NBC News. After two years and multiple scandals that include allegations from former employees of mismanagement, the most basic details of the $100,000 Privilege Grant Foundation fund — its donations, disbursements, and scholarship winners — remain a mystery.” Yiannopoulos said in a statement, “As a gay man happily married to an African-American, I got tired of explaining to my husband why people on the TV kept calling me a racist.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“U.S. Jobless Claims Decline to Lowest Level Since January 1973,” from Bloomberg News:“U.S. filings for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level since January 1973, further evidence that the labor market remains tight, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. … Jobless claims decreased by 12k to 215k[.] … Applications for jobless benefits below the 300,000 tally are typically considered consistent with a healthy labor market. Other aspects of the job market remain robust, with payrolls continuing to exceed expectations and an unemployment rate near the lowest since late 2000. Steady employment will help to sustain consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and Pence have no publicly scheduled events today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“We’re getting that sucker built!” Trump said of the border wall during his Ohio speech. “That’s what I do. I build. I was always very good at building. It was my best thing. I think better than being president, I was always very good at building.” (Philip Rucker)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— Washingtonians will see rain and perhaps even thunder today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Several batches of rain may move through, with the heaviest and longest lasting perhaps being the early morning batch. Thunder is even possible. While heavier rain should clear after rush hour, it may snarl some things during your morning commute. Allow extra time, and keep an umbrella handy for most of the day. While shower chances do lower by sunset, we can’t rule out more showers before then. … [C]ooler air is trickling in, but not before midday high temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s.”

— The Capitals clinched their place in the playoffs thanks to the Penguins’ win against the Devils. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

— The Wizards lost to the Pistons 103-92. (Candace Buckner)

— Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) visited a Richmond middle school to pitch Medicaid expansion. From Laura Vozzella: “If a school seemed like an odd venue for a health-care discussion, that was quickly cleared up. The governor and former governor … said Virginia would have more money for K-12 education and many other priorities if the state expands its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. That’s because the federal government would pick up certain health-care costs the state now pays, freeing up $421 million over two years that could be spent elsewhere … ”

— Republican lawmakers in Virginia who have backed the expansion say the backlash has been much milder than they expected, Laura reports. Despite negative ads from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Republicans say they have not heard criticism from their constituents.

— A group of Howard University students occupied an administration building in response to the school’s recent financial aid scandal. (Sarah Larimer and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert had Michael Bolton sign the policy positions of John Bolton:

The secretary of defense met the new national security adviser:

Dave Brown

@dave_brown24

Mattis meets Bolton: “I heard that you’re actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.”

The Post examined Trump’s past depositions for clues as to how he’ll respond to current legal requests:

 3:32
Trump unplugged: How Trump has acted under oath

With questions circling about President Trump giving an interview in one of his legal cases, his manner in past depositions hints at how he may behave. 

A group of veterans are running for Congress as Democrats this year:

 1:23
These veterans are running for Congress, as Democrats

While veterans are traditionally considered conservative, there are many veterans running as Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. 

Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man shot at least 20 times by police in his backyard:

 1:13
Sharpton delivers eulogy at Stephon Clark funeral: ‘This is not a local matter’

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke on March 29 at the funeral held for Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police on March 18. 

And a Chicago accountant got the opportunity of a lifetime: playing for the Blackhawks as their emergency goalie:

 0:58
Emergency goalie Scott Foster becomes the Chicago Blackhawks hero

Scott Foster works as an accountant but on March 29, he helped the Chicago Blackhawks win against the Winnipeg Jets as their emergency goalie. 

Donald Trump’s Rivals Lash Out Over “Cowardly” Firing of Deputy FBI Chief

“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known…”

Chris Kleponis/ZUMA

Democrats are laying into Donald Trump after he had Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe late Friday night, only days before McCabe was set to retire with full benefits. While Trump considered it a victory, leaders on the other side of the aisle had harsh words for the president.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who is on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump would be fired soon.

Gloat now, but you will be fired soon. And it’s not going to be done cowardly, as you’ve done to so many who’ve served you. There’s a storm gathering, Mr. President, and it’s going to wipe out you and your corrupt organization all the way down to the studs. https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/974859881827258369 

John Brennan, who led the CIA from 2013 to 2017, fired back at Trump saying he would go down in history as a “disgraced demagogue.”

When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you. https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/974859881827258369 

And Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said on Fox News that McCabe’s firing “looks very much like it was vindictive and political.”

Trump antagonist Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) was more serious than usual, alluding to legal action from McCabe and calling his punishment unfair.

I interviewed Andrew McCabe during a closed door Judiciary Committee Hearing. You should read his statement below. I believe him.

But even if you disagree, the punishment he is receiving is far out of proportion to his 21 years of service. McCabe will win his appeal. https://twitter.com/DavidYankovich/status/974874651796082690 

Trump, who previously had former FBI chief James Comey fired in a humiliating fashion—Comey learned of his ouster from TV news—gloated after the late night announcement, calling the firing a great day for democracy.

Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jonesplease join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

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  • Nathalie Baptiste

    Nathalie Baptiste is a reporter in Washington, D.C.

    Courtesy: Mother Jones

Could getting Andrew McCabe fired come back to bite Trump?

 March 17 at 9:55 AM 
 1:32
Andrew McCabe is the next to go

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on March 16, shortly before McCabe was set to retire. 

Update: The Post is now reporting that McCabe, like Comey, kept memos detailing his interactions with Trump — memos that “could help bolster McCabe’s credibility, insulating him from allegations that he misstated or misremembered his interactions with Trump.” 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe as deputy FBI director Friday night, mere hours before McCabe would have earned his full retirement benefits. And President Trump’s tweets about McCabe’s situation pretty much erase any doubts that he applied political pressure on Sessions’s decision. Trump has derided McCabe for months, even highlighting his retirement timetable three months ago.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!

And the president tweeted this shortly after midnight Saturday morning.

Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!

It’s readily apparent why getting McCabe fired might send a message Trump likes. But might it also come back to bite Trump?

Trump has now, after all, cemented the enemy status of a top-ranking official at the FBI (its No. 2) and onetime acting director. He previously did that by firing McCabe’s superior, former FBI director James B. Comey, and Comey has rewarded that decision by leaking unhelpful things and testifying about Trump in a negative light. He is now set to release a book.

But the McCabe and Comey situations are also somewhat different. Trump arguably terminated Comey more out of fear of how he was conducting the Russia investigation; he appears to have gone after McCabe because of a vendetta and possibly to send a signal to others in law enforcement who might run afoul of him. Trump’s successful push to get McCabe fired is also undeniably more personal in nature, given McCabe was ousted just 26 hours before he was to gain full retirement benefits. McCabe was already basically out the door, and firing him now — regardless of how valid the reasons in the yet-to-be-released inspector general’s report (and those reasons might be completely valid!) — comes off as even more spiteful.

Then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe in May 2017. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Matthew Miller, a former top Justice Department official in the Obama administration, noted that McCabe has already spoken to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team and that he would have shared anything he knew about allegedly illegal actions. But Miller said that doesn’t mean there isn’t more McCabe might share — particularly now that he could file suit over his termination.

“There are a host of inappropriate actions by the president that don’t necessarily rise to the level of criminality that McCabe may feel obliged to disclose publicly now,” Miller said. “It’s very much in McCabe’s interests to reveal any inappropriate actions by the president that he was aware of because it helps make his case that he was fired for political reasons. He may do that in interviews, and he may do it in a lawsuit he brings over his firing.”

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter said McCabe would still be bound by confidentiality rules and can’t share anything about grand-jury testimony that he may have gleaned. But he said the treatment of McCabe is without real compare.

“I would add that for me, and I think many former law enforcement personnel, it is difficult to recall any precedent for the kind of personal vindictiveness the action by the executive exhibits towards a career FBI agent like McCabe, except from the longtime targets of federal law enforcement, like the mob or drug cartels,” Cotter said. “With those criminals, I noted that their hate was personal towards the agents and attorneys they thought were building cases against them. This move strikes me as very similar.”

And it was made abundantly clear Friday night that McCabe is incensed by the decision. He released a lengthy statement deriding his firing as “slander” and arguing that the inspector general’s report was accelerated in response to his closed-door testimony saying he would corroborate key claims made by Comey. He suggested that the whole thing was part of a campaign to undermine the investigations involving Trump.

“This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,” McCabe said. “It is part of this administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the special counsel’s work.”

That’s significantly more full-throated than even Comey was after his firing. The question now is: What does McCabe know, and how hard does he push back? We have yet to see what’s in the inspector general’s report, and it’s quite possible that it will undercut McCabe’s credibility and prove that his firing was warranted. Having his name dragged through the mud could temper McCabe’s public comments.

But if it doesn’t, Trump and Sessions have just created a very motivated enemy.

President Trump’s lawyer calls for end to Russia collusion investigation

John Dowd, pictured in 2007, is one of the lawyers representing President Trump.
John Dowd, pictured in 2007, is one of the lawyers representing President Trump. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

It’s time to end the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, one of the president’s personal lawyers said Saturday.

The statement from John Dowd came the morning after Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions fired Andy McCabe, a former top FBI official who is accused of making misleading statements during an internal review. McCabe had been a frequent target of Trump’s criticisms and claimed his firing was another attempt to undermine the Russia investigation.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said. He first provided his statement to the Daily Beast.

Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, oversees the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the criminal investigation into Russian political interference. Rosenstein has repeatedly said, most recently in an interview with USA Today, that he supports Mueller.

Dowd said he was speaking for himself, not the president, and said the investigation should be ended “on the merits in light of recent revelations.” He did not respond to another question asking about details of those revelations.

Although Dowd suggested the Russia case was based on the dossier — a reference to opposition research collected by a former British intelligence officer paid by Democrats during the campaign — Democrats and Republicans have concluded that wasn’t the trigger for the investigation. Instead, they said, it was a tip about George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy advisor on Trump’s campaign and later pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with Russians.

It’s unlikely that Mueller will heed Dowd’s advice. In recent weeks he reportedly issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization, risking anger from a president who has carefully guarded his privately held business from public scrutiny.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Trump decides to remove national security adviser, and others may follow

 1:29
Trump decides to remove McMaster

President Trump has decided to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster from his job, part of a potential larger move to change staff. 

President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements, according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration.

Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up, these people said.

The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and un­certainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.

For all of the evident disorder, Trump feels emboldened, advisers said — buoyed by what he views as triumphant decisions last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and to agree to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back late Thursday on Twitter: “Just spoke @POTUS and Gen H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.”

 2:27
Casualties of the Trump administration

President Trump set a record for White House staff turnover in the first year. Here’s an ongoing list of staff who have quit or been fired under Trump. 

Before The Washington Post report was published, a White House spokesperson checked with several senior White House officials and did not dispute that the president had made a decision. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — who has personally been eager to see McMaster go —has also told White House staff in recent days that Trump had made up his mind about ousting McMaster.

Just days ago, Trump used Twitter to fire Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state whom he disliked, and moved to install his close ally, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in the job. On Wednesday, he named conservative TV analyst Larry Kudlow to replace his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who quit over trade disagreements.

And on Thursday, Trump signaled that more personnel moves were likely. “There will always be change,” the president told reporters. “And I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas.”

This portrait of the Trump administration in turmoil is based on interviews with 19 presidential advisers and administration officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid perspectives.

The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally.

But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce — openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next, though few, if any, have much reliable information about what is actually going on.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during a White House press briefing last year. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Many aides were particularly unsettled by the firing of the president’s longtime personal aide, John McEntee, who was marched out of the White House on Tuesday after his security clearance was abruptly revoked.

“Everybody fears the perp walk,” one senior White House official said. “If it could happen to Johnny, the president’s body guy, it could happen to anybody.”

Trump recently told Kelly that he wants McMaster out and asked for help weighing replacement options, according to two people familiar with their conversations. The president has complained that McMaster is too rigid and that his briefings go on too long and seem irrelevant.

Several candidates have emerged as possible McMaster replacements, including John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff of the National Security Council.

Kellogg travels with Trump on many domestic trips, in part because the president likes his company and thinks he is fun. Bolton has met with Trump several times and often agrees with the president’s instincts. Trump also thinks Bolton, who regularly praises the president on Fox News Channel, is good on television.

Some in the White House have been reluctant to oust McMaster from his national security perch until he has a promotion to four-star rank or other comfortable landing spot. They are eager to show that someone can serve in the Trump administration without suffering severe damage to their reputation.

There has been a death watch for McMaster for several weeks. After NBC reported on March 1 that Trump was preparing to replace him, the White House dismissed that report as “fake news” — but over the past 48 hours, officials told The Post that Trump has now made a clear decision and the replacement search is more active.

McMaster is not the only senior official on thin ice with the president. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has attracted Trump’s ire for his spending decisions as well as for general disorder in the senior leadership of his agency.

Others considered at risk for being fired or reprimanded include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who has generated bad headlines for ordering a $31,000 dining room set for his office; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been under fire for his first-class travel at taxpayer expense; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose agency spent $139,000 to renovate his office doors.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew attention this week when she stumbled through a pair of high-profile television interviews. Kelly watched DeVos’s sit-down with Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” with frustration and complained about the secretary’s apparent lack of preparation, officials said. Other Trump advisers mocked DeVos’s shaky appearance with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show.

Kelly’s own ouster has been widely speculated about for weeks. But two top officials said Trump on Thursday morning expressed disbelief to Vice President Pence, senior advisers and Kelly himself that Kelly’s name was surfacing on media watch lists because his job is secure. Trump and Kelly then laughed about it, the officials said.

But others in the West Wing say Kelly’s departure could be imminent, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been mentioned as a possible new chief of staff.

The widespread uncertainty has created power vacuums that could play to the advantage of some administration aides.

Pompeo, who carefully cultivated a personal relationship with the president, had positioned himself as the heir apparent to Tillerson, whom Trump had long disliked.

Similarly, Pruitt has made no secret inside the West Wing of his ambition to become attorney general should Trump decide to fire Jeff Sessions, who he frequently derides for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

White House officials have grown agitated that Pruitt and his allies are privately pushing for the EPA chief to replace Sessions, a job Pruitt has told people he wants. On Wednesday night, Kelly called Pruitt and told him the president was happy with his performance at EPA and that he did not need to worry about the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

With Hope Hicks resigning her post as communications director, the internal jockeying to replace her has been especially intense between Mercedes Schlapp, who oversees the White House’s long-term communications planning, and Tony Sayegh, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s top communications adviser.

Trump enjoys watching his subordinates compete for his approval. Many of the rumors are fueled by Trump himself because he complains to aides and friends about other staffers, or muses about who might make good replacements.

“I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view,” Trump said last week, rapping his fists toward one another to simulate a clash. “I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it’s the best way to go.”

Shulkin, meanwhile, is facing mounting trouble after The Post first reported that he and his wife took a sightseeing-filled trip to Europe on taxpayer funds, including watching tennis at Wimbledon. Shulkin is now facing an insurrection at his own agency, with tensions so high that an armed guard stands outside his office.

Another episode haunting Shulkin was a trip to the Invictus Games in Canada last September with first lady Melania Trump’s entourage. Shulkin fought with East Wing aides over his request that his wife accompany him on the trip because he was eager for her to meet Britain’s Prince Harry, who founded the games, according to multiple officials familiar with the dispute.

The first lady’s office explained there was not room on the plane for Shulkin’s wife, and officials said the secretary was unpleasant during the trip.

Shulkin said in an email sent by a spokeswoman: “These allegations are simply untrue. I was honored to attend the Invictus Games with the First Lady and understood fully when I was told that there wasn’t any more room for guests to attend.”

A leading contender to replace Shulkin is Pete Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran and Fox News personality who is a conservative voice on veterans policy, officials said.

White House officials said there are several reasons Trump has not axed Cabinet members with whom he has grown disenchanted: the absence of consensus picks to replace them; concern that their nominated successors may not get confirmed in the divided Senate; and reluctance to pick allied senators or House members for fear of losing Republican seats in special elections, as happened last year in Alabama.

Also, Trump has sometimes expressed confusion about what agencies and secretaries are in charge of what duties, a senior administration official said. For example, this official said, he has complained to Pruitt about regulatory processes for construction projects, although the EPA is not in charge of the regulations.

Amid the disarray, White House staff are training Cabinet secretaries and their staffs on ethics rules and discussing new processes to prevent mistakes. William J. McGinley, who runs the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs, and Stefan C. Passantino, a deputy White House counsel, have met individually and in groups with Carson, Pruitt, Shulkin, Zinke and other Cabinet secretaries to impress upon them the importance of changing behavior.

Simply following the letter of the law is not enough, administration officials said. Trump and Kelly demand that their Cabinet secretaries be mindful of political optics and the bad headlines that come with misbehavior.

“Even if the legal guys sign off on it,” one official said, “you still step back and say, ‘Does this make sense optically?’ ”

Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

Jeff Sessions Has a Huge Conflict of Interest in a Federal Bribery Case—and It Keeps Getting Worse

Documents show he was deeply involved in an effort to derail an environmental cleanup at the heart of the case.

Mother Jones illustration

As Alabama’s junior senator, Jeff Sessions was far more involved than previously known in helping two of his top contributors derail a federal environmental cleanup effort, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mother Jones and the Project on Government Oversight. The stalled cleanup is now at the center of a federal bribery case spearheaded by the Justice Department, posing a serious conflict of interest for Sessions, who is now attorney general. Yet there is no indication that Sessions has taken any steps to recuse himself from this matter.

Last fall, the Justice Department indicted a top executive at Drummond Coal and two partners in the influential Birmingham-based law firm of Balch & Bingham, who were representing the Alabama-based company. Prosecutors allege the men paid off an Alabama state representative, Democrat Oliver Robinson, as they undertook an all-out effort to block an environmental remediation effort in an impoverished, largely African American neighborhood of North Birmingham, known as 35th Avenue. Robinson, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, conspiracy, and fraud, admitted signing his name to letters opposing the cleanup that were ghostwritten by the Balch & Bingham attorneys and to surreptitiously recording meetings with Environmental Protection Agency officials.

The 35th Avenue neighborhood, coated in an ever-present layer of black soot, is sandwiched between several major industrial sites, including a coal-processing plant operated by Drummond, and is located downwind from a variety of toxic emissions. Residents have long reported unusually high incidences of respiratory illnesses and cancer. The EPA discovered such high levels of dangerous toxins in the area that, in 2013, it designated a 400-acre swath of the 35th Avenue neighborhood for a cleanup under the Superfund program. Approximately 1,300 similarly designated sites exist around the country, but because of funding shortfalls only a fraction are added to what is known as the National Priorities List—sites that receive substantial federal resources. The EPA took the initial steps in that process, proposing to add the 35th Avenue site to the NPL and naming five “potentially responsible parties” for the pollution—companies, including Drummond, that operated industrial plants in the vicinity and that would be pursued by the federal government to help pay for the cost of a major cleanup. But the agency’s efforts to remediate the polluted neighborhood ran into a brick wall of opposition from Alabama officials and lawmakers, a level of pushback that federal officials often found puzzling.

The lengths that Drummond and Balch allegedly were willing to go to block the site from getting on the NPL became clear last summer, when the bribery charges against Robinson were unveiled. His indictment—and subsequent guilty plea—shocked EPA officials, who now understood the aggressive and well-funded effort they were up against. 

“The facts set forth in the plea agreement are staggering, astonishing really,” Robert Caplan, a senior EPA attorney, wrote in a July 2017 email to Anita Davis, the regional chief of EPA community engagement on Superfund issues. “I didn’t know if you had seen this, or if you are aware of the vast scope of the lies and deception from Robinson, in concert with Balch and Bingham and Drummond/ABC.” (ABC is the name of Drummond’s plant.)

 

But Robinson wasn’t the only Alabama politician working to oppose the EPA. Various officials stepped up to the plate for Balch and Drummond. There is no evidence the officials were clandestinely paid to do so. Rather, both firms have sought influence the traditional way—through generous donations to state legislators and members of the state’s congressional delegation. One of the most powerful allies Balch and Drummond had in their corner was then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican who has particularly closes ties to both firms, which ranked second and third, respectively, as his biggest sources of campaign contributions over the course of his Senate career. Now, as attorney general, Sessions is ultimately overseeing the ongoing bribery case, which not only involves two of his top contributors but an environmental cleanup effort in which he directly intervened as Alabama’s junior senator.

In October, Mother Jones and POGO reported on Sessions’ significant conflicts of interest in the case. The story reported that, in December 2015, a Balch & Bingham newsletter touted a meeting with Sessions to discuss the 35th Avenue site and predicted a letter, signed by top Alabama lawmakers, would shortly be sent to the EPA expressing concerns over the agency’s methodology when it came to assigning blame. Soon after, in late February 2016, a letter signed by Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) was indeed sent to the EPA. Sessions declined to comment on his role in putting together the letter, which parroted Drummond’s talking points, but EPA documents subsequently obtained by Mother Jones and POGO show that his office was deeply involved in coordinating the effort to thwart the EPA cleanup. Not only did his office take the lead on drafting the letter of complaint, it arranged a contentious meeting with EPA officials to press them to back off their efforts to clean up the polluted neighborhood.

The documents reveal that a Sessions aide named Brandon Middleton sent the February letter to the EPA, then followed up twice by email to confirm the agency’s congressional liaison had received the missive.

 

In June 2016, several months after the letter was sent, Middleton contacted the liaison again to request a meeting with Heather McTeer-Toney, the administrator for EPA’s Region 4, which includes Alabama, and Mathy Stanislaus, an EPA assistant administrator who was further up the pecking order at the agency. Middleton sent an agenda for the meeting that cited five “issues of concern”—which included critiques of the testing methods used by the EPA to determine blame for the pollution. Middleton, who did not return a request for comment, told the EPA that Sessions, Shelby, and Palmer were all scheduled to attend.

When the EPA officials later showed up at Sessions’ office, none of the lawmakers were present. (Sessions spent the day with then-candidate Donald Trump, who was visiting the Senate to mend relationships with other Republican senators.) Instead, the EPA officials met with members of Sessions’ staff, who aggressively argued against the EPA adding the 35th Avenue site to its priority list.

“I was surprised neither senator had attended because they really pushed for a direct face-to-face with me,” Stanislaus says. “I simply recall it was pretty strident in terms of objecting to the listing.”

The confrontational tone of the meeting matched the tenor of the letter Sessions, Shelby, and Palmer had sent, and it mirrored similar letters sent to the EPA by top Alabama state officials. Stanislaus says he was surprised by the vigorous opposition, given the dangerous level of contamination in the area.

“This site was a pretty pronounced kind of exposure concern. For residents, there was an immediate threat,” Stanislaus says. “The public health risk didn’t seem to be a prominent concern from those who opposed it.”

Recalling the meeting and the letter, Stanislaus says he found it odd that such high-ranking officials would be so interested in the technical details of the EPA’s work on the site, one of 18 Superfund sites in the state.

McTeer-Toney, who notes the EPA’s regional office wanted to put the site on the NPL, says she was similarly taken aback by the opposition from Sessions and other lawmakers. “They were really, really pressing, trying to press senior officials to overrule what our decision was in the region,” she recalls. “They wanted to go over our head, way over our head.”

As a result of this opposition, the 35th Avenue site is stuck in a kind of limbo. It remains on a list of locations proposed for the NPL, but under the Trump administration, it still hasn’t received the federal cleanup that residents and local environmental groups have been clamoring for. Trump’s EPA and Justice Department—which would lead the effort to recoup cleanup costs from Drummond and the other companies accused of polluting the neighborhood—have been stacked with Sessions loyalists and ex-Alabama officials who fought the EPA’s efforts in North Birmingham.

McTeer-Toney’s replacement as the head of the EPA’s Region 4, for example, is Trey Glenn, a former Alabama environmental official who stated on his financial disclosure forms that in 2016, Balch & Bingham had hired him for work related to the 35th Avenue site. Glenn’s EPA spokesman emailed that “Mr. Glenn has recused himself where appropriate,” but he did not address whether that included 35th Avenue matters. Meanwhile, a former Balch & Bingham lawyer named Jeff Wood is currently the head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division—the section that would pursue legal action to force Drummond and the other polluters to pick up the tab for cleanup costs, if the site received an NPL designation. Wood, who also once served as a Senate aide to Sessions on environmental issues, has recused himself from any matters involving his former firm. Until recently, one of Wood’s deputies—and the person slated to step in for Wood on matters he had recused himself from—was Brandon Middleton, the ex-Sessions aide who helped to coordinate the opposition to the 35th Avenue NPL listing.

A Justice Department spokesman said Wood “is abiding by” his recusal. “Senior career deputies along with other non-career appointees—not otherwise recused from these matters—are able to ensure that the work of the Department carries forward in matters where” Wood is recused, the spokesman told Mother Jones and POGO in an email. At some point after early December, Middleton left the Justice Department. He now works as a deputy solicitor in the Interior Department, providing legal advice inside that agency.

Oliver Robinson, the Alabama state senator, is currently awaiting sentencing, but he has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against the two Balch lawyers, Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney, and the Drummond executive, David Roberson. In February, attorneys for the three men filed to have the bribery charges against their clients dismissed, citing the 2016 US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the corruption convictions against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). That decision makes it substantially harder to prosecute bribery charges because it limits what actions are defined as “official acts” by a public official. In the Alabama case, the defendants are arguing that they did not bribe Robinson to commit any official acts—they simply had a consulting contract with him. The prosecution has not yet responded to the argument.

After Mother Jones and POGO first reported on Sessions connections to the 35th Avenue bribery case last fall, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the attorney general in writing if he planned to recuse himself from the matter. A Leahy staffer says Sessions has yet to respond to the senator’s question.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, would not say if the attorney general had recused himself from the investigation.

“We don’t comment on recusals—as the AG explained during his opening testimony a few months ago, to do so could confirm the existence of investigations and the stage at which they may be at,” Flores said. 

Flores acknowledged that the existence of the investigation and current prosecution is public knowledge but said that discussing recusal issues still “could relay information on what stage it is at and whether it is a matter that has come to the AG’s office for example.” Flores declined to answer any questions about Sessions involvement with the Drummond case during his time as a senator.

David Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in prosecutorial ethics, says the Justice Department’s rules on recusal are clear and leave little question that Sessions should formally stand aside.

“The standards for disqualification apply whenever there’s a personal or political relationship with a person or organization,” he says. “I think the grounds for disqualification here are particularly strong—you have an official who not only has a long-standing personal relationship with organizations that are involved in the subject of the investigation, but you’re also dealing with an official who himself was involved in conduct that is connected with the conduct that’s under investigation.”

At the same time, there is no mechanism to force Sessions’ recusal, Sklansky says. It’s entirely up to him. It’s possible that Sessions has internally made clear that he intends to step aside from the Drummond-Balch case. But if he has, Sklansky argues, the attorney general should disclose that fact publicly in order to preserve the “integrity and the credibility of the Department of Justice.”

Image credit: Erin Schaff/CNP/ZUMA; Getty Images

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Courtesy: Mother Jones

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