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

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.”

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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California leaders rebuke Sessions as ‘going to war’ over state immigration policy

He arrived a day after suing California over its laws to shield immigrants living in the state illegally


A long-simmering battle between the Trump administration and California over immigration boiled over Wednesday, with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions deriding the state’s “irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies” and Gov. Jerry Brown accusing the federal government of launching “a reign of terror.”

“This is basically going to war against the state of California,” Brown declared.

As the Justice Department formally filed a legal challenge to state immigration laws, Sessions told a gathering of law enforcement officers in Sacramento that California was attempting to keep federal immigration officials from doing their jobs, and he charged Democrats with advancing the political agendas of “radical extremists.”

He took particular aim at Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had warned immigrant communities about recent federal raids in the Bay Area, and at Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for praising her actions.

“So here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you?” Sessions said of the Brown protege. “Contrary to what you may hear from open-borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland or anyone else to actively, effectively enforce immigration laws.”

The remarks drew protests and sharp rebukes from state leaders, underscoring huge rifts over the role of law enforcement in federal immigration policy.

President Trump has made restricting immigration a central focus of his agenda and has frequently criticized California for resistance to his calls to increase deportations. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump would make his first visit to California since becoming president next week, to assess prototypes for the border wall he wants built between California and Mexico and to attend a GOP fundraiser.

California Democratic leaders and the state’s top law enforcement officer responded with war talk of their own, describing Sessions’ actions as unprecedented. In fiery tweets, speeches and at a news conference at the Capitol, the Democrats said the Justice Department lawsuit is based on lies and challenges California’s sovereignty.

The governor called Sessions’ actions a political stunt, aimed at distracting the public from guilty pleas made by Trump’s advisors in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Let’s face it, the Trump White House is under siege,” Brown said. “Obviously, the attorney general has found it hard just to be a normal attorney general. He’s been caught up in the whirlwind of Trumpism … [and is] initiating a reign of terror.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), author of one of the laws targeted by the legal challenge, accused Sessions of having ideology based on “white supremacy and white nationalism.”

De León said he is directing former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., under contract to provide legal advice to the state Senate, to help formulate a response to submit in court. On a conference call with reporters, Holder said legal precedent makes clear that the federal government cannot insist that a state use its resources to enforce federal immigration law.

“From my perspective, the Trump administration’s lawsuit is really a political and unconstitutional attack on the state of California’s well-established rights under our system of government,” Holder said.

The three laws administration officials seek to challenge make it a crime for business ownersto voluntarily help federal agents find and detain undocumented workers, prohibit local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody and create a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.

Administration officials allege the laws, passed by the Legislature last year and signed by Brown, blatantly obstruct federal immigration law and thus violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence over state enactments.

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has pledged to defend the measures in court, saying they work in concert with federal laws. “Our teams work together to go after drug dealers, to combat gang violence, to take down sex-trafficking rings, and we have no intention of changing that,” he said Wednesday.

In his speech to more than 100 police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers, Sessions argued that the Trump administration did not reject immigration, but said the U.S. should not reward those who unlawfully enter the country with benefits, such as legal status, food stamps and work permits.

He said the federal government sued California to invalidate and immediately freeze what he called unjust laws.

“We are going to fight these irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you and our federal officers,” Sessions said as he finished his speech to the California Peace Officers Assn., and some officers stood in ovation. “You can be certain about this: We have your back, and you have our thanks.”

As the group welcomed Sessions with applause, a statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups gathered outside to protest his arrival.

The lawsuit and Sessions’ visit are the latest volley in an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders in California, where laws have been passed to extend healthcare, driver’s licenses and education to some of the more than 2.3 million immigrants living in the state illegally.

The event is usually a time for law enforcement officers to mingle with lawmakers, lobby for legislation and receive guidance from leaders on law enforcement priorities across the state. But Sessions’ appearance swept the attention away.

Police officers said the state’s immigration laws had not impeded their jobs so far, but the constant battles between state and federal leaders were affecting their relationships with federal partners.

Fairfield Police Chief Randy Fenn said the lawsuit raised concerns about whether law enforcement agencies would be caught in the middle of a larger immigration battle.

“We are waiting to see how this shakes out,” Fenn said.

Neil Gallucci, second vice president of the state peace officers group, said Sessions’ opinion was important to understand as the federal lawsuit had the potential to change California laws.

“Atty. Gen. Sessions is the top law enforcement officer in the United States of America,” Gallucci said. “It would be foolish for us not to listen to where we may be headed and to understand what all the issues are. That is what this forum is for.”

Though the state government’s foray into immigration issues has drawn criticism outside California in recent months, it has broad support within the state. A January poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 58% of likely voters wanted state and local immigration action. Among all adults, support rose to 65% of those surveyed.

Law enforcement officials have been divided on the issue. The most contested of the statutes — the so-called sanctuary state law — limits state and local law enforcement agencies from using any resources to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents, unless they have violent or serious criminal convictions.

For many officers across the state, that won’t change much of their daily work. Some police and sheriff’s agencies already have developed similar restrictions on working with immigration agents, either through their own policies or under local “sanctuary city” rules.

The California Police Chiefs Assn. moved its official position from opposed to neutral after final changes to the bill, but the California State Sheriffs’ Assn. remained opposed.

Outside Sessions’ speech Wednesday, a few hundred people gathered to protest. Right before the speech began, protesters spilled out onto a major street, blocking traffic, and then marched around the building.

Maria Isabel Serrano, 46, from Imperial County, said the attorney general should focus on violent crimes, not immigration.

“This is the only place where we have a sanctuary,” Serrano said in Spanish. “This lawsuit is uncalled for.”

The protests are perhaps just a preview of what’s to come. Trump will make his first trip to California on Tuesday, the White House announced. He will view border wall prototypes in San Diego and raise money at a high-dollar fundraiser in Beverly Hills.

Times staff writers John Myers and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.


Trump DOJ sues California over ‘interference’ with immigration enforcement

The Trump Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday night against California, saying three recently-passed state laws were deliberately interfering with federal immigration policies.

It marked the latest legal and political confrontation with the nation’s most populous state, which the federal government says has repeatedly stood in the way of its plans to step up enforcement actions in the workplace and against criminal aliens.

“The Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair, and unconstitutional policies,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions was expected to tell California law enforcement officers on Wednesday. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America.”

The state’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, fired back: “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”

Sessions and Rosenstein were spotted dining together hours after the president's criticism. Republicans say a special counsel is warranted because of the high legal standard for obtaining a surveillance warrant.

Federal officials are seeking an injunction to immediately block enforcement of the three California laws, each enacted within the past year.

One of those laws offers additional worker protections against federal immigration enforcement actions. Senior Justice Department officials have said it’s prevented companies from voluntarily cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Employers are mandated under the law to demand ICE agents present a warrant or subpoena before entering certain areas of the premises, or when accessing some employee records.

Some companies have complained they’ve felt torn between trying to comply with seemingly contradictory state and federal statutes, since penalties for non-compliance can be steep from both entities.

Another state law dubbed known by critics as the “sanctuary state” bill protects immigrants without legal residency by limiting state and municipal cooperation with the feds, including what information can be shared about illegal-immigrant inmates.

A third law gives state officials the power to monitor and inspect immigrant detention facilities either run directly by, or contracted through, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Justice Department has said it’s confident the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause gives it broad authority to supersede state laws that it says interfere with its immigration enforcement obligations.

President Trump threatens to pull ICE agents out of California over the state's sanctuary state police; retired Marine Corps sergeant Tommy Kilbride reacts.

Still, state officials in the past have cited the 10th Amendment’s guarantee of states not being compelled to enforce federal laws.

“We’ve seen this B-rated movie before. So we’re not totally surprised,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in response to the new lawsuit.

The Justice Department is also reviewing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn of an immigration sweep in advance, which ICE said allowed hundreds of immigrants to escape detention. “Oakland is a city of immigrants. We will continue to exercise our legal right to exist as a sanctuary city. We will continue to inform all residents about their Constitutional rights, and we will continue to support California’s sanctuary status,” the Democratic mayor responded.


An estimated 2.5 million immigrants are believed to be in California illegally. In the most recent figures, ICE has reported about 16 percent of its enforcement apprehensions take place in that state.

The latest legal action by the Trump administration is part of an aggressive push to enforce existing immigration laws, with Sessions in previous remarks citing a porous U.S. border with Mexico, and the threat of criminal activity by immigrant gangs.

Zarate is awaiting sentencing for possessing a weapon.

Federal officials repeatedly have cited the case of Kate Steinle, shot to death by an illegal alien and seven-time felon in San Francisco, one of 35 communities in the state declaring itself a “sanctuary city.”

The Justice Department in January threatened California and other states with subpoenas and a loss of grant money for repeatedly failing to respond to requests for immigration compliance under a federal law known as Section 1373.

Federal officials would not say whether other states were at risk of similar lawsuits over their alleged non-compliance with immigration laws.

A coordinated ICE enforcement action last month on businesses in the Los Angeles area netted 212 people arrested for violating federal immigration laws, 88 percent of whom were convicted criminals, officials said.

Fox News’ Melissa Chrise, Jake Gibson, Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

‘Pure madness’: Dark days inside the White House as Trump shocks and rages

President Trump prepares to board Marine One as he heads to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 23. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
 March 3 at 4:26 PM 
Inside the White House, aides over the past week have described an air of anxiety and volatility — with an uncontrollable commander in chief at its center.

These are the darkest days in at least half a year, they say, and they worry just how much farther President Trump and his administration may plunge into unrest and malaise before they start to recover. As one official put it: “We haven’t bottomed out.”

Trump is now a president in transition, at times angry and increasingly isolated. He fumes in private that just about every time he looks up at a television screen, the cable news headlines are trumpeting yet another scandal. He voices frustration that son-in-law Jared Kushner has few on-air defenders. He revives old grudges. And he confides to friends that he is uncertain about whom to trust.

Trump’s closest West Wing confidante, Hope Hicks — the communications director who often acted as a de facto Oval Office therapist — announced her resignation last week, leaving behind a team the president views more as paid staff than surrogate family. So concerned are those around Trump that some of the president’s oldest friends have been urging one another to be in touch — the sort of familiar contacts that often lift his spirits.

In an unorthodox presidency in which emotion, impulse and ego often drive events, Trump’s ominous moods manifested themselves last week in his zigzagging positions on gun control; his shock trade war that jolted markets and was opposed by Republican leaders and many in his own administration; and his roiling feud of playground insults with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

What Hope Hicks’s departure says about the White House

The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker explains what the departure of White House communications director Hope Hicks means for President Trump. 

Some of Trump’s advisers say the president is not all doom and gloom, however. He has been pleased with the news coverage of his role in the gun debate and lighthearted moments have leavened his days, such as a recent huddle with staff to prepare his comedic routine for the Gridiron, a Saturday night dinner with Washington officials and journalists.

Still, Trump’s friends are increasingly concerned about his well-being, worried that the president’s obsession with cable commentary and perceived slights is taking a toll on the 71-year-old. “Pure madness,” lamented one exasperated ally.

Retired four-star Army general Barry McCaffrey said the American people — and Congress especially — should be alarmed.

“I think the president is starting to wobble in his emotional stability and this is not going to end well,” McCaffrey said. “Trump’s judgment is fundamentally flawed, and the more pressure put on him and the more isolated he becomes, I think, his ability to do harm is going to increase.”

This portrait of Trump at a moment of crisis just over a year after taking office is based on interviews with 22 White House officials, friends and advisers to the president and other administration allies, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss Trump’s state of mind.

The tumult comes as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russia’s 2016 election interference and the president’s possible obstruction of justice has intensified. Meanwhile, Kushner, a White House senior adviser, was stripped last week of his access to the nation’s top secrets amid increasing public scrutiny of his foreign contacts and of his mixing of business and government work.

Trump has been asking people close to him whether they think Kushner or his company has done anything wrong, according to a senior administration official. Two advisers said the president repeatedly tells aides that the Russia investigation will not ensnare him — even as it ensnares others around him — and that he thinks the American people are finally starting to conclude that the Democrats, as opposed to his campaign, colluded with the Russians.

Officials in four countries discussed manipulating Jared Kushner

Officials in four countries discussed ways to manipulate Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law. 

Still, the developments have delivered one negative headline after another, leading Trump to lose his cool — especially in the evenings and early mornings, when he often is most isolated, according to advisers.

For instance, aides said, Trump seethed with anger last Wednesday night over cable news coverage of a photo, obtained by Axios, showing Sessions at dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, and another top Justice Department prosecutor. The outing was described in news reports as amounting to an act of solidarity after Trump had attacked Sessions in a tweet that morning.

The next morning, Trump was still raging about the photo, venting to friends and allies about a dinner he viewed as an intentional show of disloyalty.

Trump has long been furious with Sessions for recusing himself from oversight of the Russia probe, and privately mocks him as “Mr. Magoo,” an elderly and bumbling cartoon character. But this past week the president was irate that his attorney general had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general — as opposed to criminal prosecutors — to investigate alleged misdeeds by the FBI in obtaining surveillance warrants.

On Friday morning, Trump targeted his ire elsewhere. About an hour after Fox News Channel aired a segment about comedian Alec Baldwin saying he had tired of impersonating Trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Trump lit into Baldwin on Twitter, initially misspelling his first name. “It was agony for those who were forced to watch,” the president wrote at 5:42 a.m.

“Trump’s fundamentally distorted personality — which at its core is chaotic, volatile and transgressive — when combined with the powers of the presidency had to end poorly,” said Peter Wehner, a veteran of the three previous Republican administrations and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “What we’re now seeing is the radiating effects of that, and it’s enveloped him, his White House, his family and his friends.”

Trump jetted Friday to his favorite refuge, his private Mar-a-Lago Club in South Florida, where he dined on the gilded patio with old friends — former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and wife Judith and Blackstone Group chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman, among others. Trump tried to convince his companions that trade tariffs were more popular than they think, according to someone with knowledge of their conversation.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, he rolled up to the Trump International Golf Course for a sunny, 70-degree morning on the greens. Rather than firing off a flurry of angry messages as on other recent weekend mornings, the president tweeted only, “Happy National Anthem Day!” But then shortly after noon, once he returned to Mar-a-Lago from the golf course, Trump tweeted that the mainstream media has “gone CRAZY!”

Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a Trump friend, said, “I’m bewildered when I see these reports that he’s in turmoil. Every time I speak to him he seems more relaxed and in control than ever. He seems pretty optimistic about how things are shaping up.”

Trump is testing the patience of his own staff, some of whom think he is not listening to their advice. White House counsel Donald McGahn and national economic council director Gary Cohn have been especially frustrated, according to other advisers.

The situation seems to be grating as well on White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, who had been on the ropes over his handling of domestic-abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter but who now appears on firmer footing. Talking last week about his move from being homeland security secretary to the West Wing, Kelly quipped, “God punished me.”

Last Friday, Kelly tried to explain anew the timeline of Porter’s dismissal with a group of reporters — an unprompted move that annoyed and confused some White House staffers, who thought they were finally moving past the controversy that had consumed much of February.

“Morale is the worst it’s ever been,” said a Republican strategist in frequent contact with White House staff. “Nobody knows what to expect.”

Since Trump entered presidential politics three years ago, Hicks has been his stabilizing constant, tending his moods and whims in addition to managing his image. Within the president’s orbit, many wonder whether Trump has fully absorbed the impact of Hicks’s upcoming departure.

Trump told one friend that Hicks was a great young woman, who, after three intense years, was ready to do her own thing. He told this friend that he recognized the White House was full of “tough hombres,” according to someone briefed on the conversation.

But other confidants said the president feels abandoned and alone — not angry with Hicks, but frustrated by the circumstance. Coupled with last fall’s departure of longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, Trump will have few pure loyalists remaining.

“Losing people is too much of a story for the president,” said oil investor Dan K. Eberhart, a Trump supporter and a Republican National Committee fundraiser. “It just seems like it’s imploding . . . Trump had momentum with tax reform, the State of the Union speech. He should try to keep that going.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were left in varying states of consternation by Trump’s whipsaw on guns. He suggested publicly last Wednesday that he favored tougher background checks and would forgo due process in taking away guns from the mentally ill, but then sent opposite signals after huddling with National Rifle Association lobbyists the next night.

Trump’s aides said his vacillation was a function of the controlled chaos the president likes to sow. Trump recently has come to favor opening his meetings to the media — “It’s like his own TV show,” said one adviser — where he often chews over outlandish ideas, plays to the assembled press and talks up bipartisan consensus, even if it never leads to actual policy.

Trump doesn’t see guns through the traditional prism of left vs. right, but rather as a Manhattan business developer, said one senior administration official, adding that he has told staff that he doesn’t understand why people need assault rifles.

The president’s decision last Thursday to announce steep new tariffs on aluminum and steel — and gleefully tout a possible trade war — caught almost his entire team, including some of his top trade advisers, by surprise.

Earlier in the week, Cohn was telling people he was going to continue stalling Trump on tariffs. He described the tariffs as “obviously stupid,” in the recollection of one person who spoke to him.

“Gary said to him, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” a senior administration official said. “The more you tell him that, the more he is going to do what he wants to do.”

Trump’s allies say that in his past ventures he has thrived in chaotic environments, and he has replicated that atmosphere in the White House. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) recalled visiting Trump in the Oval Office for a bill-signing photo opportunity a few weeks into his presidency that was scheduled to last just a few minutes.

“We were in there over an hour, and every White House character was in there at one point or another. . . . It was like Grand Central station,” King said. “He has a way of getting things done. He had the worst campaign ever. On election night, he was the guy smiling and had won.”

Courtesy: The Washington Post

Trump slams Sessions for using ‘Obama guy’ to investigate ‘massive FISA abuse’

President Trump put Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in his political crosshairs on Wednesday, blasting him for tapping an “Obama guy” to investigate allegations of government surveillance abuse.

The president was reacting to Sessions revealing a day earlier that the Justice Department’s inspector general will investigate the allegations, in light of memos released on Capitol Hill about FBI and DOJ efforts to obtain FISA warrants to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser.

“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Trump wrote.

Sessions confirmed on Tuesday, in response to a question from Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, that the abuse accusations would be investigated at the IG level.

“The inspector general will take that as one of the matters he’ll deal with,” he said, in reference to DOJ IG Michael Horowitz.

On 'The Daily Briefing,' Rep. Trey Gowdy discusses the attorney general's decision to open an investigation into FISA abuses after the release of the Republican and the Democratic memos.

In a brief statement issued Wednesday following the president’s tweet, Sessions vowed to press on.

“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” he said. “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”

Horowtiz for months has been investigating the FBI and DOJ’s actions related to the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email use while secretary of state.

A final report is expected soon, though Trump seemed to complain Wednesday about the amount of time it has taken. Horowitz has publicly said that the report could be completed this spring.


Horowitz was confirmed to the post during the Obama administration, in 2012. However, while Trump labeled him as an “Obama guy,” he also served as commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission during the George W. Bush administration. His generally enjoys a solid reputation – though his work on the Clinton case, and now surveillance abuse, could make him a target for both sides of the aisle.

The IG’s office had no comment on the president’s latest tweet.

House oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., defended Horowitz on Wednesday.

“I have had a number of interactions with Inspector General Horowitz, including as recently as earlier this month. He has been fair, fact centric, and appropriately confidential with his work. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate without a single dissent,” he said in a statement. “I have complete confidence in him and hope he is given the time, the resources and the independence to complete his work.”

Trump’s tweet reflected apparent impatience about taking surveillance abuse claims to the next level.

For the past several weeks, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been at war over those allegations.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a memo in early February detailing the surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, saying an infamous, unverified dossier funded by Democrats “formed an essential part” of the application to spy on him.

Democrats released a rebuttal memo on Saturday, downplaying the role of the dossier.

The White House responded to the GOP memo by saying it “raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI to use the government’s most intrusive surveillance tools against American citizens.”


Sessions said earlier this month on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that that there would be an investigation into how the FBI used the dossier to secure the surveillance.

“Let me tell you, every FISA warrant based on facts submitted to that court have to be accurate,” he said. “That will be investigated and looked at, and we are not going to participate at the Department of Justice in providing anything less than the proper disclosure to the court before they issue a FISA warrant.”

The involvement of the IG was not clear until Tuesday.

This is hardly the first time Trump has gone after his attorney general, who was among Trump’s earliest supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

An updated edition of the book, “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” revealed that former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had to intervene last year to dissuade Sessions from resigning.

This was reportedly after Trump personally excoriated Sessions, calling him an “idiot” and blasting him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Sessions ultimately stayed on.

Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, Jason Donner, Jake Gibson and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Priebus dishes on White House chaos, Sessions’ near-resignation

Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff who has kept a low profile since his ouster last summer, is speaking out on the chaos he witnessed in the West Wing in those early months – detailing the fiery infighting that consumed the Trump team after James Comey’s removal, and the scramble to avert Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation.

“Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus said.

The former Republican National Committee boss spoke to writer Chris Whipple for an updated version of his book, “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”

Former White House chief strategist reportedly claims there was insufficient time to get White House to sign off on questions; reaction from Robert Driscoll, former deputy assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush.

In an adapted passage in Vanity Fair, Priebus and other sources gave new details about what was happening behind the scenes after Trump ousted his FBI director, apparently against the wishes of Priebus and White House Counsel Don McGahn.

The account says in the immediate aftermath, chief strategist Steve Bannon blew up at Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who supported Trump’s decision to fire Comey and supposedly was angry the communications team was struggling to defend it.

“There’s not a f—ing thing you can do to sell this!” Bannon  reportedly shouted at Kushner. “Nobody can sell this! P. T. Barnum couldn’t sell this! People aren’t stupid! This is a terrible, stupid decision that’s going to have massive implications. It may have shortened Trump’s presidency—and it’s because of you, Jared Kushner!

As a special counsel subsequently was named to take over the Russia meddling case, Priebus described the crisis that unfolded soon afterward on the sidelines with Sessions:

"The Five" co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle discusses the missing text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

“Don McGahn came in my office pretty hot, red, out of breath, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem.’ I responded, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Well, we just got a special counsel, and Sessions just resigned.’ I said, ‘What!? What the hell are you talking about?’ ”

Priebus detailed a scramble from that point on to dissuade Sessions from leaving. He apparently ran to the West Wing parking lot and jumped into Sessions’ sedan, telling him, “You cannot resign.” This led to a meeting with Bannon and Vice President Pence, “and we started talking to him to the point where he decided that he would not resign right then and he would instead think about it.”

According to Whipple, Sessions delivered a resignation letter, but Priebus said he convinced Trump to return it.

Sessions’ resignation threat, which apparently followed a humiliating dressing-down by the president, has emerged in published reports before, though not in this level of detail.

The book adaption goes on to describe another clash. Whipple writes that Priebus was told over the summer to get Sessions’ resignation, but Priebus convinced Trump otherwise.

Whipple also details what led to then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s infamous January 2017 briefing appearance where he attacked the media for coverage of the inauguration crowd size.

He writes that Priebus got a call from a livid Trump just after 6 in the morning after the inauguration complaining about news reports that showed his inaugural crowds didn’t measure up to those of his predecessor. Priebus said Trump insisted, “There’s more people there. There are people who couldn’t get in the gates. … There’s all kind of things that were going on that made it impossible for these people to get there.”

Whipple writes that Priebus thought arguing about crowd size was not a good fight to pick on the day after the inauguration, but the chief of staff knew he had to decide: “Am I going to go to war over this with the president of the United States?”

Priebus was ousted by Trump last July and replaced by John Kelly, whose own job security is now in doubt as Trump complains about Kelly’s handling of allegations of domestic abuse by top aide Rob Porter.  Porter resigned last week.

For all of the drama and tumult of his days with Trump, Priebus told Whipple, “I still love the guy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

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