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National Govt & Politics
Roller coaster Thursday for President Trump on Russia, Cohen, Cabinet
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Roller coaster Thursday for President Trump on Russia, Cohen, Cabinet

Roller coaster Thursday for President Trump on Russia, Cohen, Cabinet
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Roller coaster Thursday for President Trump on Russia, Cohen, Cabinet

In a turbulent Thursday, President Donald Trump raised new questions about how he might deal with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, admitted that Michael Cohen was his lawyer in legal dealings with porn star Stormy Daniels, watched as his Cabinet saw a day of success, verbal scrapes, and setbacks, and then saw a Senate panel approve a bill designed to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

A day after his personal lawyer notified a federal court that he would exercise his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in a lawsuit brought by Daniels, the President did an interview by telephone on his favorite morning television program, "Fox and Friends" - but that only created more news.

Instead of just being a Fox News bullhorn for his views on a number of different subjects - Mr. Trump in the interview instead stirred new interest in how he will treat the Russia probe, and the legal questions surrounding a $130,000 pre-election payment in 2016 to an adult film star.

Even for reporters - it was a busy day. Let's run down some of the headlines.

1. Trump raises personal intervention in Russia probe. In an interview on his favorite morning television program, "Fox and Friends," the President vented more of his frustration about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and seemed to raise the possibility that he might take some action in the future. "You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it's a disgrace," the President said. "And our Justice Department - which I try and stay away from - but at some point, I won't," Mr. Trump said, making a statement which was interpreted by some as a threat to intervene in the case.

2. From Fox News to court documents in two hours. Not only were fans of the President watching as he joined "Fox and Friends" by telephone from the White House, but federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York were listening, too. And two hours later, comments by the President were already in a footnote of a new submission to a federal judge who is dealing with evidence seized in an FBI raid on the President's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen. While Cohen had said that many of the documents and computer records seized by the feds were involved in legal work that he did for the President, radio host Sean Hannity, and one other person, Mr. Trump had a different view, saying Cohen does a "tiny, tiny little fraction" of his legal work.

3. Trump interview opens new questions on Cohen, Stormy Daniels. As the story has slowly played out over a $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels - what she said was hush money from President Trump before the 2016 elections - Mr. Trump has said little about it, telling reporters aboard Air Force One in recent weeks that he knew nothing about the payment made to Daniels by Michael Cohen. But on "Fox and Friends," the answer was different, as Mr. Trump clearly acknowledged that he was a party to the legal settlement. "He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me," the President said. "From what I see, he did nothing wrong." That prompted a Fox News host to ask, "Then why is he taking the Fifth?"

4. White House doctor, Trump's VA nominee, withdraws. Even before getting on the phone with "Fox and Friends," there was already big news for the White House, as the day began with what many on Capitol Hill had been expecting, with White House physician Ronny Jackson announcing that he would drop his bid to be Veterans Secretary, amid growing reports of embarrassing personal stories. "He's a great man, and he got treated very, very unfairly," President Donald Trump told reporters, as he met with children of White House reporters just outside the Oval Office. For the President, the episode seemed to be an unforced political error, as he's made veterans issues one of his main causes since entering office.

5. Senators demand better vetting on next VA nominee. As the VA search resumed, members of both parties made clear they want the White House to look for someone with more experience, worried that the President's first pick was done on a whim. "The best possible person that we can get," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, when asked who the President should select. "I want to find the best person available that we can get," Isakson told reporters. "The President put a guy out there who was not qualified," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). "This was so bungled." "I feel like they put the President in a bit of a difficult situation," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).  "Maybe the vetting could have been done better."  For now, the VA will keep its acting director, as the President must find a new nominee.  He fired the last VA Secretary, David Shulkin, in late March.

6. Pompeo wins Senate approval as Secretary of State. As the White House tried to pick up the pieces surrounding the President's failed VA pick, officials were able to celebrate a 57-42 vote in the Senate to confirm CIA chief Mike Pompeo as the next Secretary of State, giving the President a top diplomat who clearly seems more in line with Mr. Trump's world view. Six Democrats - Donnelly (Indiana), Heitkamp (North Dakota), Jones (Alabama), Manchin (West Virginia), McCaskill (Missouri), and Nelson (Florida), joined with all Republicans, and one independent (King of Maine) in voting for Pompeo as the 70th Secretary of State. "He has the qualifications and experience necessary to successfully fulfill his role," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).   In the midst of all of the other controversy involving the President and the White House on this Thursday, the Pompeo vote was a big win, as was later Senate approval of the President's choice for Ambassador to Germany,  Richard Grenell.

7. Pruitt dukes it out with lawmakers in contentious hearing. After weeks of stories about ethics issues involving his stewardship at the EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt spent much of Thursday in the proverbial 'hot seat' in Congress, defending his work at the EPA, and warding off the verbal barbs of Democrats. "You are unfit to hold public office," one said. "You seem unable to take responsibility for your actions," added another. "In any other administration, Republican or Democrat, you would be long gone by now," said one more Democrat.  While Pruitt sternly defended his decisions, he seemed to change his story on the exact reasons that he needed a $43,000 secure phone booth for his office, and altered his explanation of raises which were engineered for some of his top aides, as he left Democrats looking for deeper explanations on a variety of fronts. While Pruitt seemed to survive the theater of Thursday's hearings, it wasn't clear if he had inadvertently opened other lines of questions about some of his actions.

8. The first real push back on Russia from Congress. There has been talk for months from Republicans about how they could dissuade President Trump from threats to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller - but on Thursday - there was finally legislative action, as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan bill which would allow the Judicial Branch to review the firing of someone like Mueller. The plan was supported by four Republicans, all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "While I do not believe President Trump intends to remove Special Counsel Mueller, I believe this legislation has enduring value for future special counsel investigations," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not schedule this bill for a vote - but it still represented the first real warning shot by the GOP Congress to the President on the Russia probe - and Mueller.   Look for Democrats to start making a lot of public calls for a vote on this bill, as they try to convince the President to leave Mueller alone.

9. Diamond and Silk make their case to Congress. Almost any other day, the appearance on Capitol Hill of Diamond and Silk, a pair of black women who have become darlings of conservative politicians, would have made for big news - but instead it was merely a footnote in a day of fast-paced political events. At a House hearing that looked at political bias on the internet, the two social media personalities made the case that Facebook and YouTube had - on purpose - reduced their ability to make money by 'monetizing' videos on those social media platforms, simply because of their political views and support for President Trump. Any other day, this would have been playing live on the cable channels, and would have dominated social media. But on this Thursday, there was too much to digest. So, to paraphrase John Stewart's line from the Daily Show, here's your five minutes of Zen. Watching this video is also a good test, as one might expect that people on both sides will find reasons to like what they see and hear, no matter your personal political bias.

10. My kids don't know how big their Thursday was. All of my kids have come to work with me over the years at the Capitol; this time I brought my two younger boys. They were tuckered out by mid-afternoon as I dragged them up and down the stairs, chasing lawmakers, doing interviews, checking the traps, and seeing old friends all around Capitol Hill. In the midst of all of the news, all the partisan bickering, all of the political drama, it's important to remind people that those who work on Capitol Hill are good souls. My parents started work in the halls of Congress in the late 1950's, and I'm still here almost 60 years later. We had just walked into the Capitol on Thursday when we ran into Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). It was just steps from where I remember - as a 12 year old - meeting Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC). Maybe they'll stick around Capitol Hill, maybe not. But it's great to have them here. I just wish there had been a little less news.

 

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A man who was shot and killed in an officer-involved shooting outside of a South Florida Mosque Friday afternoon was wanted in Osceola County for attempted murder. According to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, Police in Broward County and U.S. Marshals had been looking for Hamid Ould-Rouis,58, who was accused of beating up a man and stabbing a woman nearly to death in a Kissimmee home early Thursday. The woman remains hospitalized in critical condition.  Members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force tracked him to the parking lot near the Masjid Al Iman mosque, in Fort Lauderdale. When he got out of a black SUV with a weapon, several officers opened fire. He died on the scene.  There is no indication that the mosque is related to the incident, officials said.  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.
  • Game dates and kickoff times for Orlando’s Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl games were announced Thursday as part of ESPN’s 2019-20 college football bowl schedule. This year, the Camping World Bowl, which traditionally features teams from the ACC and Big 12 conference will be broadcast on ABC for the first time in the bowl’s 30-year history.  It is set for Saturday, December 28 at Noon.  Last year’s contest saw Syracuse beat West Virginia 34-18 which helped guide the Orange to a 10-3 record, the team’s best finish since 2001.  The Citrus Bowl, which typically features teams from the ACC, SEC and Big Ten conference will continues its News Years Day tradition, kicking off at 1 o' clock on January 1, 2020.  It will also be broadcast on ABC.  In last year’s game, Kentucky defeated Penn State 27-24.  “We are thrilled to present two big-time bowl games from Orlando on national television this season,” Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase the Central Florida community twice in five days this postseason.”  The Cure Bowl, Orlando’s third bowl game, had already announced that this years game will be played at Orlando City Stadium, on Saturday, Dec. 21.
  • A judge sentenced the man who admitted to killing a Wisconsin couple last year before holding their 13-year-old daughter captive for three months to life in prison without the possibility of supervised release. >> Read more trending news Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, appeared before a Barron County judge for sentencing in the killing of James and Denise Closs and the kidnapping of their daughter, Jayme, according to the Duluth News Tribune. He pleaded guilty in March to two counts of intentional homicide for gunning down James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, in the early morning hours of Oct. 15. He also pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping for abducting Jayme. >> Man pleads guilty to kidnapping Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs, killing her parents Update 4:30 p.m. EDT May 24: A judge sentenced Patterson to life in prison without the possibility of parole for each of the intentional homicide charges to which Patterson pleaded guilty. The judge also gave Patterson the maximum sentence -- 40 years -- for kidnapping Jayme. Update 4:20 p.m. EDT May 24: In a brief, tearful statement in court, Patterson said he “would do like, absolutely anything to take back what I did.” “I would die,” he said. “I would.” Patterson’s attorneys asked a judge to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole until 2072 for the killings of James and Denise Closs. The sentencing hearing is ongoing. Update 3:30 p.m. EDT May 24: In a statement read by an attorney Friday in court, Jayme said Patterson took many things from her but that, “He can never take my spirit away.” “He thought he could make me like him, but he was wrong,” she said. “He can’t stop me from being happy and moving forward with my life. I will go on to do great things in my life, and he will not. Jake Patterson will never have any power over me.” Chris Gramstrup, an attorney representing Jayme, read the victim impact statement in court. “He stole my parents from me,” Jayme said in the statement. “He stole almost everything I loved from me. For 88 days, he tried to steal me, and he didn’t care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever.” Prosecutors said Jayme and her mother heard Patterson shoot and kill James Closs as they huddled together in a bathtub. Denise Closs called 911 as Patterson tried to batter down the bathroom door. Once he broke down the door, he wrestled the phone from Denise Closs and ordered her to tape Jayme’s mouth, hands and feet, prosecutors said. He told authorities that he thought she was doing a bad job, so he put down his shotgun to do it himself. Once Jayme was restrained, authorities said he picked up his shotgun again and, with Jayme feet from her mother, shot Denise Closs in the head. He then dragged Jayme to his car, threw her in the trunk and drove her to his home, where she was held captive for 88 days. Through Gramstrup, Jayme said her parents “did all they could to make me happy and protect me.” “He took them away from me forever,” Jayme said. “I felt safe in my home and I love my room and all of my belongings. He took all of that too. I don’t want to even see my home or my stuff because of the memory of that night. My parents and my home were the most important things in my life.” She said that since her escape in January, “It’s too hard for me to go out in public.” “I get scared and I get anxious,” she said. Prosecutors said Jayme escaped from Patterson’s home Jan. 10 after he left her alone. Original report: Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said members of Jayme’s family are expected to give statements at Friday’s hearing, MPR News reported. The court proceeding is expected to last several hours, according to CNN. Under Wisconsin law, Patterson will face a mandatory life sentence for each of the homicide convictions, the Duluth News Tribune reported. The main question for Friday will be whether Patterson will eventually be eligible for parole, according to the newspaper. >> Who is Jake Thomas Patterson? Suspect in Jayme Closs kidnapping identified Authorities said Patterson admitted to targeting Jayme after seeing her get on a school bus while he was driving home from work one day. He told investigators he did not know the Closses before the attack. Jayme told authorities she woke early on the morning of Oct. 15 when the family dog started barking. She woke her parents and then hid with her mother in a bathroom. Investigators said Patterson shot and killed James Closs before he found Jayme and Denise Closs in the bathroom. >> Jayme Closs kidnapping: Suspect charged in Closs murders, bail set at $5 million Jayme said Patterson killed her mother before dragging her to his car and driving her to what would turn out to be his home in Douglas County. He was arrested after Jayme escaped Jan. 10 from his home and flagged down a woman walking her dog. >> Jayme Closs to be given $25K reward after she saved herself from accused kidnapper Jayme told investigators Patterson made her hide under the bed in his bedroom for as many as 12 hours at a time without food, water or bathroom breaks. She escaped after Patterson left her alone in the home 88 days after he first abducted her. Jayme is living with her aunt and uncle, the Stevens Point Journal reported.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said he was OK on Friday after he appeared to nearly faint during a news conference in New York City. >> Read more trending news Nadler, D-N.Y., was appearing Friday at a news conference about plans to expand the city’s use of speed cameras in school zones when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to notice he looked pale, WABC-TV reported. Video from the news conference showed Nadler looking ill and weak as the mayor asked him if he wanted some water.  The New York Daily News reported that paramedics called a code blue emergency after Nadler appeared to suffer from a brief dizzy spell. He was given water and an orange and later taken by ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital, according to the Daily News. “Appreciate everyone’s concern,” Nadler said in a statement posted later Friday on Twitter. “Was very warm in the room this morning, was obviously dehydrated and felt a bit ill. Glad to receive fluids and am feeling much better. Thank you for your thoughts.”
  • A Colorado man arrested in Utah earlier this year for threatening to “kill as many girls as (he saw)” has been sentenced to serve up to five years in prison, despite prosecutors’ recommendation that he serve probation.  Christopher Wayne Cleary, 27, of Denver, pleaded guilty to a charge of attempt to make a terroristic threat as part of a plea deal with Utah County prosecutors, according to The Deseret News. Cleary, who was arrested in Provo in January, was already on probation in Colorado on two previous convictions of stalking women, the newspaper reported.  Cleary expressed remorse over his words. “I’m just sorry for what happened,” Cleary told the court, according to the News.  Prosecutors in Utah negotiated a plea deal with Cleary for a third-degree felony charge instead of the second-degree felony with which he was initially charged, the News reported. In exchange for his plea -- which would let them secure a felony conviction -- they agreed to recommend no jail time. The plea bargain was aimed at helping Colorado authorities send Cleary to prison for violating his probation in the stalking cases, the News reported.  >> Related story: Man upset over not having girlfriend accused of mass shooting threat to girls Fourth District Judge Christine Johnson on Thursday declined to take the state up on its recommendation, citing her uncertainty of whether Cleary would serve any jail time for probation violation in Colorado, the newspaper said. “I don’t want to be in the position of guessing what Colorado is going to do,” Johnson said during Cleary’s sentencing hearing.  Cleary was arrested Jan. 19, the same day multiple women’s marches were being held in Utah and throughout the country, based on an alarming Facebook post he wrote the night before, the News said. In the post, he bemoaned his lack of romantic prospects and, like several mass shooters who have targeted women, blamed the opposite sex for his plight. “All I wanted was a girlfriend,” Cleary wrote, according to a police affidavit obtained by The Denver Post. “All I wanted was to be loved, yet no one cares about me. I’m 27 years old and I’ve never had a girlfriend before, and I’m still a virgin. This is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter ‘cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.” Another post stated, “There’s nothing more dangerous than (a) man ready to die,” the Post reported.  Cleary’s threats alarmed state and federal authorities in Colorado and neighboring Utah, where they traced his cellphone the following day. He was arrested at a McDonald’s in Provo and charged with making a terroristic threat.  Following his arrest, Cleary told investigators he was “upset and not thinking clearly” when he wrote the Facebook posts. According to the Post, he deleted the threats after other people called him and threatened him. Court records obtained by multiple newspapers paint a disturbing portrait of Cleary, who was accused of stalking and harassment by at least eight women and girls dating back at least seven years. The News reported that Cleary was also accused of threatening to bomb a grocery store in 2013 and threatened to commit a mass shooting at a mental health facility in 2016.  >> Read more trending news An 18-year-old Arvada woman called police on New Year’s Eve 2015 and reported that Cleary, with whom she’d been chatting on Facebook, began harassing her online and over the phone after she declined to go on a date with him. According to the Post, the woman told detectives he would use aliases, including one alias on Facebook named John Coleman. “I’ve been watching you,” the person claiming to be Coleman wrote to her on Facebook. “Soon here, you’ll be lying in your deathbed.” During that investigation, Arvada detectives found details of a previous criminal investigation in which Cleary told another woman who spurned his advances she should kill herself, the Post reported. He also posted her name and phone number in an online sex ad, offering her services for $20, court records show. In a prior misdemeanor harassment case from earlier in 2015, Cleary was convicted after talking a woman into posing naked for him and then posting the picture to a fake Facebook page in her name, the newspaper reported.  A harassment case from Denver found Cleary accused of writing threatening messages to a 17-year-old girl, including a message that said, “I own multipul (sic) guns. I can have u dead in a second. One day I’ma snap and kill everyone,” according to court documents. A second Denver case involved a 19-year-old woman who said she lived with Cleary in a hotel room for two weeks, during which time he choked her and urinated on her, the court documents said.  Cleary was convicted in October 2016 on two counts of stalking and harassment involving two of the three alleged victims in Arvada, the Post said. He was sentenced to two years of probation.  Cleary was arrested in yet another stalking case less than a year later. A 43-year-old Lakewood woman who had dated him called 911 Aug. 5, 2017, to report Cleary was stalking her. He was arrested outside the woman’s house. According to the Post, Cleary told investigators the woman was the only person who loved him and he was lonely without her. The woman told police she and Cleary had a sexual relationship -- contradicting Cleary’s claim earlier this year that he was a virgin. The victim told police Cleary, who began stalking her when she broke off the relationship, had called her 45 times that day, threatening her and telling her he hoped she would die.  “I am going to burn your house down,” Cleary told her, according to court records. “I am going to send people to your house to kill you.” Cleary also posted her phone number and address on Craigslist “soliciting sexual acts and rape,” according to a probable cause statement in the case. The woman said she’d received multiple phone calls from strangers due to the ad. The woman told police she lost 20 pounds and began having nightmares and anxiety attacks because of the stalking, the Post reported.  Cleary pleaded guilty to charges of felony stalking and making threats, the newspaper said. A judge in Jefferson County sentenced him last May to three years of probation.  Despite having violated his probation on the Arvada cases, he was not jailed following his guilty plea in the case involving the Lakewood woman, the Post reported. Pam Russell, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, said Cleary’s mental health played a part in his sentencing in that case, as well as in his 2016 stalking conviction, which was handled in Adult Mental Health Court.  “The courts decided to let his mental health issues be a big component of his treatment,” Russell told the Post.  Cleary’s defense attorney in the most recent case, Dustin Parmley, said this week that his client’s violent words are related to his mental illness, which he was reportedly diagnosed with at age 10. Cleary told investigators he takes medication for an impulse control disorder.  Parmley said Cleary’s words have never turned to action. Investigators found no evidence that Cleary had weapons or attempted to obtain any, the Post said.  The newspaper reported that four of the criminal investigations into Cleary ended without charges filed against him.  Cleary will serve his time in Utah before being transferred to Colorado to face probation violation charges there, the News reported. An official with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole told the paper his earliest hearing could take place as soon as September. The News said the board could potentially set a release date at that time, or members could decide to keep him in prison. Cleary could serve the entire five years of his sentence before being returned to Colorado. 

Washington Insider

  • Victims of Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters will have to wait into next month for Congress to give final approval to a $19.1 billion relief bill, as final passage of the plan in the House was blocked on Friday by a lone Republican lawmaker, forcing a delay until Congress returns for legislative business in the first week of June.   “I respectfully object,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a more conservative Republicans who stayed in town after the House had completed its legislative business on Thursday, and came to the floor Friday morning to object to acting on the plan without a full roll call vote.   The House had approved $19.1 billion in disaster aid in early May; the Senate on Thursday amended the plan with the backing of President Trump – but it wasn’t good enough to get unanimous consent for approval in the House. “If I do not object, Congress will have passed into law a bill that spends $19 billion of taxpayer money without members of Congress being present here in our nation’s capital,” Roy said on the House floor, forcing a further delay on the disaster aid measure. One of Roy’s objections was that no money was included in the plan for the immigrant surge along the southern border - President Trump had backed off of that in order to secure a deal on Thursday. Roy’s maneuver drew the scorn of fellow Republicans from states which are need of aid - like Georgia - where farmers suffered devastating losses from Hurricane Michael. Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) tweeted that “our farmers need aid today,” as this move by his GOP colleague will delay that process into June, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fellow Republicans with farmers in need of assistance.   Democrats were furious. “House Republicans’ last-minute sabotage of an overwhelmingly bipartisan disaster relief bill is an act of staggering political cynicism,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  “Countless American families hit by devastating natural disasters across the country will now be denied the relief they urgently need,” Pelosi added in a statement. “This is a rotten thing to do,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who noted to reporters that Roy was blocking aid for his own home state of Texas. “We should have passed this months ago,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), who asked for approval of the measure on the House floor. “I am beyond fed up. This is wrong,” said Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA).  “This bill is about helping people – not about playing Washington politics.” “Republican politicians are playing games while people’s homes are literally underwater,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).   Unless Republicans relent next week, the House would not be able to set up a vote on the disaster aid measure until the week of June 3. “There are people who are really hurting, and he’s objecting,” Shalala said.  “He’s holding hostage thousands of people.”  The House has two ‘pro forma’ meetings scheduled for next week - on Tuesday and Friday.  Republicans could object to passing the bill at those times as well.