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National Govt & Politics

    The sprawling network funded by the billionaire Koch brothers is having a very good run with President Donald Trump in the White House and Republican control of Congress. Tax cuts are now signed into law. A conservative judge is seated on the Supreme Court. And many governmental regulations, including those on labor and environmental practices, are facing rollbacks. That success is starting to get attention. Democrats are increasingly questioning how far the network's influence extends into the White House, casting the groups' backing by industrialists Charles and David Koch as puppeteers behind Trump's agenda and hoping to rouse their own donors to fight back. The network in turn is ratcheting up its focus on areas where it aligns with Democrats— most notably immigration legislation — and reviving calls for bipartisanship. 'We've come off one of the most successful years in our network's history,' said James Davis, executive vice president of Koch-backed Freedom Partners and a spokesman for the Seminar Network, the broader organization of groups and donors. 'And we're going to turn up the heat on both parties to drive forward.' But there's another outcome, too: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and other senators recently fired off letters to the administration asking for a detailed accounting of the network's role at various government offices including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The senators name more than a dozen individuals working in the administration with ties to the groups. On Monday, the lawmakers will launch a series of Senate floor speeches turning a spotlight on the influence. 'Americans have a right to know if special interests are unduly influencing public policy decisions that have profound implications for public health, the environment, and the economy,' wrote Whitehouse with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. The influence of the Koch-backed groups is somewhat surprising. They are an array of organizations and include Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and Concerned Veterans for America, whose donors include some of the wealthy attendees of the twice-a-year Seminar Network conferences. The groups took a pass on donating to Trump's presidential bid. But they have managed to influence policy through several top allies in key jobs sprinkled across the administration. Among those in the Koch orbit with ties to the administration, perhaps the most prominent is Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, who is a past president of Freedom Partners, the network's chamber of commerce-styled group. Short plays a key policy-making role and is a Capitol Hill fixture of legislative battles. The senators mention several others with top policy roles, including Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president. Koch groups have been central to Trump policies Democrats oppose — among them tax cuts for the wealthy, loosening of environmental regulations, and expanding private-sector health care for veterans. Trump's first-year regulatory rollbacks were drafted by one of the Koch-backed groups and became a ready blueprint for action in Congress. The network, however, doesn't just toe the Trump line. On Monday, the group is stepping up its effort to push Congress not to let up on legislating as lawmakers turn to focus instead on campaigning for midterm elections. Two groups in the network are releasing a letter to congressional leaders of both parties, urging them to take up a bipartisan compromise to help young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood. They want Congress to pass a deal that was on the table earlier this year — a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers and $25 billion for border security. Because most Americans want a solution that would allow the Dreamers to avoid deportation, the group says Trump and Congress should be able to come up with a solution. 'There is no reason to continue to delay action on the Dreamers,' wrote officials from Freedom Partners and the LIBRE Institute, two network groups. 'What are we waiting for?' The group is also pushing Congress to take up criminal justice reform, another issue with bipartisan support that has lagged. Republicans have little appetite to engage on big-ticket items as they struggle to keep control of their majority in the House, and try to pick off Democratic incumbents up for re-election in the Senate from conservative Trump-won states. And Democrats, while saying they are willing to engage with the Koch-backed groups, are at times envious of their operation and eager to pound on their influence, which includes chapters that mimic traditional party apparatus in many battleground states. It doesn't help build bipartisanship when much of the advocacy the Koch groups undertake, unleashing their army of volunteers and spending sums on advertising, ends up going against Democratic senators in Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota and others in tough election battles. ___ Follow Lisa Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro
  • President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is facing serious opposition before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which may not have enough votes to recommend him for confirmation because all Democrats, and at least one Republican, have said they will oppose him. The full Senate is still expected to consider Pompeo's nomination later this week. But the rare rebuke expected from the panel Monday, even after Pompeo's recent visit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, would be the first time in years that a nominee for the high-level Cabinet position did not receive a favorable committee vote. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, blamed partisan politics for opposition to Pompeo, now the CIA director, saying Pompeo is just as qualified as past secretaries of state nominees Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, both of whom received overwhelming support. 'We are in an era where somebody like this, who is qualified, unfortunately, is likely to be voted out without recommendation or with a negative recommendation,' Corker said Sunday on 'State of the Union' on CNN. 'It's just sad that our nation has devolved politically to this point.' Pompeo's confirmation before the full Senate now hangs in balance, with the votes of just a handful of senators determining whether he becomes the nation's top diplomat after Trump fired Rex Tillerson last month. Key Democrats, including some who had voted for Pompeo as CIA director last year, are peeling away, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky remains opposed, despite personal overtures from the president. Pressure is mounting on senators from both sides. White House allies are unloading ad campaigns against Democrats from Trump-won states, including North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, to vote for the president's nominee. But progressive groups are pounding senators' offices in opposition to Pompeo's hawkish foreign policy views and negative comments about gay marriage and Muslims. As soon as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., announced her support last week, one group called on her to switch. 'I don't agree with every position he's taken or every word he has spoken,' Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday on 'Meet the Press' on NBC. 'But I believe he has an extensive knowledge of world affairs that has been enhanced by his time at the CIA.' Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who met with the nominee last week, 'has concerns about Mr. Pompeo's nomination to serve as secretary of state,' said spokesperson Ricki Eshman. The senator 'is reviewing his record before making a final decision.' In the committee, the opposition has been building ahead of Monday's session. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who was among the last Democrats on the panel to announce his no vote, said he's is concerned that Pompeo 'will embolden, rather than moderate or restrain' Trump's 'most belligerent and dangerous instincts.' 'I do not make this decision lightly or without reservations,' Coons said in a statement Friday. 'However, I remain concerned that Director Pompeo will not challenge the President in critical moments. On vital decisions facing our country, Director Pompeo seems less concerned with rule of law and partnership with our allies and more inclined to emphasize unilateral action and the use of force.' Rather than allow an unfavorable vote on the panel, where Republicans have a one-seat majority, senators could choose not to issue a recommendation if Pompeo cannot find enough backing. The committee action won't necessarily stall Pompeo's confirmation before the full Senate, but it would be an unusual setback not seen since the panel took a pass on John Bolton, President George W. Bush's pick for ambassador to the United Nations. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has been among Pompeo's most vocal champions in the Senate, lambasted his colleagues ahead of voting. 'Democrats, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee, are really engaged in shameful political behavior,' Cotton said Sunday on CBS' 'Face the Nation.' But several Democratic senators who supported Pompeo for CIA director say Pompeo's views are not reflective of those they want in the top diplomat. ___ Follow Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro
  • Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson was tending to grievously injured military personnel in Iraq when he was summoned to Washington to interview for a job he barely knew existed. He didn't see a way to get there. 'I thought this was it — this is where the road stops,' he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal this month. Instead, Jackson managed to catch a ride on a transport plane that steered the Levelland, Texas, native toward some of the loftiest corridors of power. Jackson's journey has wound through the White House and across the globe, treating the blisters, stomach ailments and more of the past three presidents and their retinues. This coming week, Jackson is back on the interview circuit and heading toward the Senate for a hearing Wednesday on his nomination to be President Donald Trump's next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 'This will be the challenge of his life,' said Robert Darling, a former White House physician who still dines occasionally with Jackson at the Army Navy Country Club. Now it's time for Washington to examine Jackson, universally described as a reassuring presence in the most pressurized of atmospheres. But the 50-year-old apolitical Navy man has no experience leading a massive bureaucracy. 'He's got a great bedside manner you feel comfortable with,' Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told The Associated Press. 'But it doesn't mean he will be a good leader of the VA.' Some White House veterans privately say they're mystified at why Jackson is willing to move from practicing medicine to the insult-laden world of Trump-era politics at the head of scandal-plagued agency. Jackson did not respond to requests for comment from the AP. But, in an interview with the Lubbock newspaper, Jackson defended his qualifications for the VA job. 'I've been in leadership school for 23 years now. ... I've been confronted on a day-to-day basis with life and death decisions.' Trump abruptly named him to succeed David Shulkin, an Obama-era holdover fired under an ethical cloud and something of a staff rebellion. The president was delighted with Jackson's comprehensive and buoyant — some said fawning — briefing to reporters in January on Trump's 'excellent' health and mental acuity. Jackson has been an unknown on policy and it's not even clear he voted in the 2016 presidential election. The Hockley County Board of Elections in Texas shows he voted in 2015. The only inkling of where he stands came when a few of the Democratic senators who met Jackson this past week reported that the nominee is promising not to privatize the VA. Shulkin's resistance to partial privatization, through expansion of a program letting veterans choose private care at public expense, compounded his lapses in travel spending and may have been the driving force in his dismissal. Where Jackson stands on enlarging the VA Choice program has yet to be teased out. His path to this point is a winding one that did not start off pointing to medical school, emergency surgery or service to presidents. In fact, in high school, Jackson went through 'an ornery stage' that featured him cutting classes and ending up in the assistant principal's office at the business end of a wooden paddle. 'He got quite a few swats from me,' recalls former Levelland High School assistant principal Kelly Baggett, a longtime family friend who now counts himself one of Jackson's biggest fans. 'He took it like a man and shook my hand when it was over,' Baggett said in a telephone interview. 'Just a great kid, the kind you always want to visit with.' Jackson at first wanted to be a marine biologist, not a doctor. His direction changed after he took a job at the University of Texas Medical School as an autopsy assistant and found it interesting, according to an interview in the Lubbock newspaper. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in marine biology in 1991. He didn't plan on entering the Navy, either. But Jackson needed money for medical school, and he learned of a program in which he could be a Navy diver and a doctor, according to that published account. Jackson got his medical degree in 1995 from the University of Texas and began active duty naval service that year at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Virginia, his Navy biography says. Jackson graduated from the Navy's Undersea Medical Officer Program in Groton, Connecticut. He completed his residency back in Portsmouth and deployed as the emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward deployed Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon in Taqaddum, Iraq. The White House was another unplanned destination. Jackson said he 'got an email out of nowhere' saying he'd been nominated for a job at the White House. He then sped to Washington. Since President George W. Bush hired him in 2006, Jackson has cut a widely admired path among some of the nation's fiercest partisans — on intimate terms. Everyone who's recently worked in a president's inner circle, it seems, has a Ronny Jackson story. Somewhere along the Pacific Rim in 2015, he treated the severely blistered toe of Obama's National Security Council spokesman, recalled the patient, Ned Price. 'Treatment consisted of bandages and tape, and it worked like a charm,' said Price, who said he had been suffering from wearing new shoes for 20 hours straight. He like others described Jackson as a cool-headed and pleasant presence, 'the guy you always want to be around.' 'At no point was he down or stressed out,' said Jen Psaki, who was Obama's communications director. She recalled Jackson reassuring her when she was pregnant that 'if anything happens, we're good' whether on medically equipped Air Force One or in back in Washington. 'I remember telling my husband that there's no safer place I could be than the White House.' It was Obama who elevated Jackson to director of the White House medical team and made him his physician. Liz Allen, who served as Obama's deputy communications chief, said Jackson monitored her blood pressure for years and routinely would ask, even in passing, how she was doing. 'He is just so genuine,' she said. 'He treated people well. He always made you feel like you were the priority even when there were competing priorities.' Jackson is known for maintaining relationships. His connection to fellow Texan Bush, for example, survived the Bush presidency. In photos, the former president wears a reddish cap on a 2013 trip to Zambia, emblazoned with the name of Jackson's hometown, Levelland. Freddy Ford, a Bush family spokesman, said the hat had been given to Bush by Jackson's father, Waymon. ___ Associated Press writers Calvin Woodard, Hope Yen and Stephen Braun in Washington, Jake Pearson in New York, AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington and AP investigative research Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • The Supreme Court has so far had little to say about Donald Trump's time as president, even as the nation has moved from one Trump controversy to another. That's about to change. The justices' first deep dive into a Trump administration policy comes in a dispute over the third and latest version of the administration's ban on travel from some countries with majority Muslim populations. Opponents of the policy and some lower courts have labeled it a 'Muslim ban,' harking back to Trump's campaign call to keep Muslims from entering the country. The high-stakes arguments at the high court on Wednesday could offer some indication about how a court that runs on respect for traditions and precedent will deal with a president who regularly breaks with convention. Apart from the campaign statements, Trump's presidential tweets about the travel ban and last fall's retweets of inflammatory videos that stoked anti-Islam sentiment all could feature in the court's discussion of the travel ban's legality. 'The court could get to the right outcome without getting into the question of his tweets. But I think the president set it up so that it's virtually impossible to ignore him when he's shouting from the rooftops about what his purpose was in the three versions of the ban,' said Cecillia Wang, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy legal director. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who will argue the administration's case, said in a court filing that the ban is well within the president's authority and is not based on prejudice against Islam. In a sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. One key issue will be how the court evaluates administration actions. Neil Eggleston, President Barack Obama's last White House counsel, suggested in an online forum last week that Trump does not merit the same measure of latitude that courts usually give presidents, especially in the areas of national security and immigration. 'The court will have to wrestle with how much to defer to a President who has created this record of chaos and animus,' Eggleston and co-author Amanda Elbogen wrote on justsecurity.org. Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, cautioned that the court would be breaking new ground if it were to treat Trump differently from other presidents. The policy under review at the court applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries: blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. A sixth majority Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list this month after improving 'its identity-management and information sharing practices,' Trump said in a proclamation. Francisco said the Chad decision shows that the restrictions are premised only on national security concerns. He also said that the State Department has cleared more than 430 visa applicants from the affected countries for waivers that would allow them to enter the U.S. But the challengers argue that the administration cannot ask the court to ignore all that has happened. Trump's first travel ban was issued just a week after he took office in January 2017, and was aimed at seven countries. It triggered chaos and protests across the U.S. as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. Trump tweaked the order after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to reinstate the ban. The next version, announced in March 2017, dropped Iraq from the list of covered countries and made it clear the 90-day ban covering Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen didn't apply to those travelers who already had visas. It also eliminated language that would give priority to religious minorities. Critics said the changes didn't erase the ban's legal problems. The 9th Circuit and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, agreed with the ban's opponents. The 4th Circuit said the ban 'drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.' The 9th Circuit ruled that Trump violated immigration law. The third version is indefinite, unlike the other two, and the administration said it is the product of a thorough review of how other countries screen their own citizens and share information with the U.S. It fared no better than its predecessors in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court said in an unsigned order in December that it could take full effect while the legal dispute continues. The justices said nothing about the substance of the policy, either in December or in earlier actions involving the ban. Now, though, they are confronted with the administration's view that Trump has broad discretion to impose limits on immigration and that the courts don't even have a role to play. The Justice Department has said throughout the course of the legal fight that the lawsuits challenging the policy should be dismissed without ever reaching the challengers' claims. The administration says that foreigners have no right to enter the United States and no right to challenge their exclusion in American courts. Supporting briefs for the ban's challengers dwarf filings on the administration's side. Retired high-ranking military officers, former Republican officeholders, Catholic bishops, Amazon, Facebook and 113 other companies, the children of Japanese-Americans who were held in internment camps during World War II and more than a dozen mainly Democratic-led states are among those calling on the court to strike down the Trump policy. The administration's supporters include roughly the same number of Republican-led states, as well as conservative groups and Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's personal lawyers. A decision in Trump v. Hawaii, 17-965, is expected by late June.
  • A former driver for House Speaker Paul Ryan who has been active in Wisconsin Republican politics for years announced Sunday that he is running to succeed Ryan in Congress. Bryan Steil, an attorney from Ryan's hometown of Janesville and a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, becomes the likely Republican front-runner after the field of better-known potential candidates cleared for his entry. 'I want to take my problem-solving skills to Congress. I think they need problem solvers, doers ... not talkers,' Steil said in prepared remarks announcing his candidacy. He cited the need for a good education, quality schools and skilled workers for jobs of the future. 'I want to take our Wisconsin work ethic and my problem-solving experience to Washington's non-stop crisis factory,' he said. Steil, 37, entered the race less than two weeks after Ryan said he would not seek re-election. Ryan said Friday that he had no immediate plans to endorse anyone. Steil has been a regent since 2016 and works as general counsel and secretary at Charter NEX Films Inc., an independent producer of polyethylene film used for food and consumer packaging. Steil, whose name is pronounced 'style,' worked as Ryan's personal driver from 2003 to 2004. Steil is the first vice chairman on the Rock County Republican board and is well-known to GOP activists in Ryan's southeastern Wisconsin congressional district, even though he doesn't have a high public profile. That will change in the coming weeks, with money expected to pour into the district as Republicans look to keep the seat and to avoid a potentially embarrassing Democratic win. Among the other Republicans running for the seat are two former Ryan opponents. One of them, Jeremy Ryan, is known for riding his Segway and being a prominent liberal protester in Madison. He got 6 percent of the vote against Ryan in 2014. Another candidate, Paul Nehlen, was banned by Twitter for racist and anti-Semitic posts earlier this year and lost to Ryan in the 2016 primary by 68 percentage points. Ryan's campaign, among others, has said Nehlen is not fit to hold office. Two other GOP candidates, security consulting firm co-owner and former Green Beret Nick Polce and applications engineer Kevin Adam Steen, are political newcomers. On the Democratic side, union iron worker Randy Bryce faces Janesville teacher Cathy Myers. Bryce, who made a national splash with his launch video and nickname 'Iron Stache,' has been leading in fundraising and was put on the national House Democrats' list of top challengers in Republican-held districts even before Ryan stepped aside. In a statement, Bryce campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt called Steil 'part of the institutional Republican swamp that believes we should give tax breaks to the wealthy and pay for it by attacking working people's retirements and healthcare.' Myers criticized Steil's record as regent. 'Voters don't want another rubber stamp in Washington, they want a representative who will fight for them,' Myers said in a statement. The primary is Aug. 14. The district runs from the Illinois border north to the southern suburbs of Milwaukee and includes the blue collar cities of Janesville, Beloit and Kenosha. But it also reaches into conservative Waukesha County and includes more Republican-friendly rural areas, which has helped Ryan win re-election over his 20-year career by at least 55 points each time. President Donald Trump won the district by more than 10 percentage points while winning statewide by less than a point. In the race for an open Wisconsin Supreme Court seat earliest this month, the conservative candidate won the district by over 5 points while losing statewide by 12. Blake Gober is a Republican strategist who is helping run Steil's campaign for Congress. Gober said he first met Steil in 2011 when Gober was working on then-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser's campaign. 'Whenever there's been a conservative candidate, he's been out there supporting them, working for them in whatever way possible,' Gober said of Steil. 'The grassroots knows him and trusts him.' Gober said that even though Steil has been closely tied with Ryan, he won't be viewed as a 'creature' of Madison or Washington because he's never run for office. 'He's going to run as Bryan Steil, not as the second coming of Paul Ryan,' Gober said. ___ Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
  • President Donald Trump on Sunday claimed North Korea has agreed to 'denuclearization' before his potential meeting with Kim Jong Un. But that's not the case. North Korea said Friday it would suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches ahead of summits with the U.S. and South Korea. Kim also said a nuclear test site would be closed and 'dismantled' now that the country has learned how to make nuclear weapons and mount warheads on ballistic rockets. But the North has stopped short of saying it has any intention of abandoning its nuclear arsenal, with Kim making clear that nukes remain a 'treasured sword.' Trump nonetheless tweeted Sunday that the North has 'agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!' Being committed to the concept of denuclearization, however, is not the same as agreeing to it, as Trump claims. South Korea, which is set to meet with North Korea later this week, has said Kim has expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But the North for decades has been pushing a concept of 'denuclearization' that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the Korean Peninsula and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. South Korea's president has said Kim isn't asking for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a condition for abandoning his nuclear weapons. If true, that would seem to remove a major sticking point to a potential disarmament deal. But that still doesn't address a North Korean arsenal that now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and developmental ICBMs developed during a decadeslong cycle of crises, stalemates and broken promises. Trump agreed to meet with Kim after an invitation was delivered by a South Korean delegation that had just returned from Pyongyang. 'I told President Trump that in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he's committed to denuclearization,' South Korea's national security adviser later told reporters on the White House driveway. 'Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests.' A place and date have yet to be set, but Trump's pick to be the next secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, traveled to North Korea on Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for the meeting. Trump has called the talks a success, but it's unclear exactly what was agreed to, if anything, as a condition for the leader-to-leader talks. 'Look, this is a great public relations effort by Kim Jong-un. And I think people recognize that,' Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Sunday on CNN's 'State of the Union.' But asked whether be believed the North would denuclearize, Corker offered caution. 'Well, I don't think he said anything about denuclearizing on the front end necessarily,' he said. He added on ABC's 'This Week' that it's unrealistic to think that 'somebody's going to go in and charm' Kim out of keeping his nuclear weapons. 'Is it realistic that he's just willy-nilly going to do that? Absolutely not,' Corker said. 'But, you know, progress can be made, freezing the program, who knows what he's — what his ambitions are as it relates to South Korea.' Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, was equally as skeptical on CBS' 'Face the Nation,' arguing that North Korea's recent statements are easily reversible and that no announcement has been made about short- or medium-range ballistic missiles that threaten South Korea and Japan. 'Well, I think this announcement on Friday is better than continued testing, but it's not much better than that,' he said. 'But I do think they show that the president has put Kim Jong Un on the wrong foot for the first time.' Asked what denuclearization means to both sides, White House Legislative Director Marc Short said on NBC's 'Meet the Press' that there needs to be a sit-down meeting to make sure everyone's on the same page. 'But I think from our perspective, it means full denuclearization,' he said. 'No longer having nuclear weapons that can be used in warfare against any of our allies.' Still, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, told CBS that if the president goes through with the meeting, it's 'very important' that it 'goes well and that there is an ability to put together some terms of an agreement that might exist.' 'The question,' she said, 'is whether it lasts or not. And of course the reputation of the North Koreans has been that they don't necessarily keep their agreements.' ___ Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj
  • The White House says President Donald Trump has no intention of firing special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. White House legislative director Marc Short said Sunday he has no reason to believe they would be removed despite Trump's increasing agitation over Mueller's probe into his campaign's ties to Russia. Rosenstein oversees that investigation. Complaining of a media fixation, Short tells NBC: 'It's like there's an hourglass waiting there to see, OK, when's he going to fire Rosenstein? When's he going to fire Mueller? ... As far as I know, the president has no intention of firing these individuals.' Short says he can't rule it out in the long term, though, because it's not known 'how far off this investigation is going to veer.
  • A Russian lawyer who discussed sanctions with Donald Trump Jr. in New York during his father's 2016 campaign for the U.S. presidency said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller has not contacted her yet. In an interview with The Associated Press, Natalia Veselnitskaya also detailed her recent meeting in Berlin with investigators from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. Like Mueller, the committee is investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Veselnitskaya met in June 2016 with then-candidate Donald Trump's son, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, after Trump Jr. was told the Russian lawyer had potentially incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Mueller, a former FBI director, is leading a federal probe of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. He has filed charges against multiple former Trump campaign aides. Veselnitskaya alleged in her interview with the AP in downtown Moscow that if Mueller's team never questions her, it would mean that it 'is not working to discover the truth.' Veselnitskaya is a well-connected Moscow lawyer who has worked with a company called Prevezon Holdings Ltd. The company's owner is the son of a former Russian government official and a fierce advocate for rolling back U.S. sanctions on Russia. At the time of her 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, she was defending Prevezon against charges it had engaged in money laundering from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. Trump Jr. and others in attendance have downplayed the meeting, saying nothing came of it. Trump has denied that he or his campaign coordinated with any Russian attempts to interfere in the election. The Senate Intelligence Committee has expressed interest in determining whether Veselnitskaya's appointment with Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort was part of a Russian government effort to help President Donald Trump's campaign for the White House. It was described that way in emails to Trump Jr. before it took place. Several congressional committees are looking into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and whether there were collusion by Trump's campaign. The House Intelligence Committee has finished its investigation and said it found no evidence of collusion or coordination with Russians. The Senate Intelligence Committee approached Veselnitskaya earlier this year, but she refused to go the United States, saying she feared for her safety. The lawyer and the committee's investigators instead met in a Berlin hotel on March 26 and talked for three hours. 'That was essentially a monologue. They were not interrupting me,' Veselnitskaya said. 'They listened very carefully...Their questions were very sharp, pin-pointed.' The investigators mainly wanted to know about Trump Tower meeting, she said. Veselnitskaya said she repeated her previous statements about it, insisting that she was not linked to the Russian government and merely wanted to discuss sanctions against Russia. Veselnitskaya's said the Berlin interview also focused on information in memos compiled by a former British spy whose work was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton's campaign. The dossier contains numerous allegations of Russian ties to Trump, his associates and the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya dismissed the dossier as 'absolute nonsense.' She insisted that Glenn Simpson, whose firm Fusion GPS was hired to compile the dossier and who was questioned by the House Intelligence Committee in January, had been 'framed.' The Senate committee has not sent her the minutes of the interview yet, Veselnitskaya said, because no one has figured out a safe way to get them to her. Asked why she decided to meet with the U.S. investigators in Berlin, Veselnitskaya said she felt compelled to tell her account after being into the heart of the Russia probe. 'I'm ready to explain things that may seem odd to you or maybe you have suspicions,' she said.
  • Outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is sticking by his decision not to campaign against the Democrat seeking to fill his seat. Corker says he considers the Democrat, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (BRED'-uh-sen), a 'friend.' Corker backs Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn but says he won't oppose Bredesen. The Washington Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had privately told Corker that his friendly comments about Bredesen risked Republicans' ability to hold their majority in the November elections. Republicans hold a slim 51-49 advantage in the Senate. Asked why Blackburn is a better candidate, Corker responded: 'I think most people in our state ... will focus on the first vote she makes, and that's the vote to elect the majority leader.' Corker spoke Sunday on ABC and CNN.