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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "donald trump"

So what’s Trump’s “major announcement” on the border?

Westlake Legal Group trump-wall So what’s Trump’s “major announcement” on the border? The Blog shutdown theater donald trump border crisis announcement

Yesterday we learned that the President would today be making what’s being billed as a major announcement about the crisis at the border and the shutdown. John Sexton offered some of the results of the guessing game as to what the announcement might be last night, but thus far the details have been surprisingly resistant to leaks. Of course, when it comes to predicting what the President might say at any given moment, the only safe advice is to buckle your seatbelts and expect the unexpected. (Associated Press)

Democrats are now proposing hundreds of millions of dollars for new immigration judges and improvements to ports of entry from Mexico but nothing for the wall, a House aide said, as the party begins fleshing out its vision of improving border security.

After days of bitter clashes between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it was unclear if the twin developments represented serious steps toward resolving the nasty partisan fight or posturing. But they were the first tangible signs of movement in a dispute that has caused a partial government shutdown, which Saturday was entering its record 29th day.

Trump’s refusal to sign spending bills that lack $5.7 billion he wants to start constructing that wall, which Democrats oppose, has prompted the shutdown.

A couple of thoughts on the announcement follow, but I first wanted to highlight that final sentence from the Associated Press because it’s fairly typical of the media message this year. Their position is that “Trump’s refusal to sign spending bills that lack $5.7 billion” for the wall “has prompted the shutdown.”

That may be true. But it would be equally true to say, “Democrats refusal to provide $5.7 billion for border construction that they previously supported has prompted the shutdown.” Funny how that works, eh? Another point to ponder is that nothing specific has leaked out yet. That tells me that Trump hasn’t even told his own inner circle. In fact, he may still be working it out in his own head.

With that said, I’ll share a couple of observations about today’s announcement. Nearly every observer out there is now convinced that the President won’t be announcing a national emergency to fund the wall today. That was pretty much my opinion also. Why change course now after drawing hard lines in the sand? But if our experience with Donald Trump has taught us anything we should realize that as soon as we’re all sure he’s going to do one thing he does something else entirely. With that in mind, the odds of a national emergency being declared just went up.

But if we stick to the assumption that today’s news won’t fall that way, what else does the President have to offer? I’m sure he’d be happy to accept Pelosi’s offer of funding for more immigration judges and border monitoring technology, but that doesn’t get him the wall. Has the President left the Democrats to stew in their own juices long enough that he’s willing to put something on the table? If so, the most likely deal sweetener he could throw in right now would be some sort of DACA fix, possibly including permanent legal resident status for the dreamers.

If Pelosi turned that down over a relatively paltry $5.7B in wall funding she would be inviting the wolves to her own door. But the other half of this equation is to consider whether that’s actually a card that the President has in his hand. He can say he would support a DACA fix all day long but if he can’t get the GOP leadership and a majority of the members to go along with it, it’s all for nothing.

My prediction: Another demand that Chuck and Nancy come back to the table and negotiate in good faith. And being a dealmaker, Trump will put something outrageous on the table that he thinks will cripple Pelosi if she turns it down. What that “something” might be remains an unknown.

The post So what’s Trump’s “major announcement” on the border? appeared first on Hot Air.

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President Trump plans ‘major announcement’ tomorrow afternoon (Update)

Westlake Legal Group Trump-announcement President Trump plans ‘major announcement’ tomorrow afternoon (Update) The Blog Government Shutdown donald trump Border wall border crisis

There has been a lot of speculation about how the government shutdown might end. One theory was that it would end with an emergency declaration by the president premised on a crisis along the southern border. That speculation may have moved one step closer to reality. A short time ago, Trump tweeted that he’d be making a big announcement about the border and the shutdown tomorrow:

That’s not much to go on and no one else is talking.

But earlier today Trump also tweeted this brief video: “Everything we’re asking for…this is what law enforcement wants,” Trump says in the clip, referencing his request for more border security. He adds, “Wait ’til you see the results. They’ll be proud of it and we’ll be even prouder.”

That certainly makes it sound as if Trump has a plan to move forward but as recently as Monday Trump said he did not want to go down the emergency declaration path. That’s because the expectation is that it won’t actually achieve anything for border security in the short term.

Trump has the authority to declare the emergency and he can use that as a justification to shuffle around several billion dollars from existing projects. But everyone anticipates that some Democratic AG will immediately file a lawsuit and the whole thing will be held up in the courts for months, possibly into 2020. So long as the funding is held up, Democrats can campaign on his failure to keep one of his major campaign promises, which is what they wanted all along.

The upside is that the declaration would make it possible for Congress to pass some funding bills (without the $5.7 billion border security money) and the government would reopen. That would presumably mean the State of the Union, scheduled for a week from Tuesday, would be back on. Democrats will spend the time between now and then declaring victory but Trump will get his chance to do the same before a larger audience at the SOTU.

This battle over the border, or at least this phase of the battle, might be ending but the war will go on. We’ll have to tune in tomorrow at 3 pm to find out what happens next.

Update: So maybe not an emergency declaration…

The post President Trump plans ‘major announcement’ tomorrow afternoon (Update) appeared first on Hot Air.

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Capitol Hill wonders: What kind of disaster will end this shutdown?

Westlake Legal Group kinzinger-cnn Capitol Hill wonders: What kind of disaster will end this shutdown? The Blog Nancy Pelosi Government Shutdown donald trump disaster Adam Kinzinger

The only brief periods of national unity — or even national comity — we experience these days come from disasters, natural or otherwise. Is that what it will take to get both sides of the shutdown war to emerge from their trenches and cut a deal? Everyone else wonders about this too, so it’s no surprise that McKay Coppins hears the same kind of despair on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle:

As the longest government shutdown in American history lurches toward its fifth week, a grim but growing consensus has begun to emerge on Capitol Hill: There may be no way out of this mess until something disastrous happens.

This is, of course, not a sentiment lawmakers are eager to share on the record. But in interviews this week with congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle (whom I granted anonymity in exchange for candor), I heard the same morbid idea expressed again and again.

The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.

As one Democrat told Coppins, “This is all pageantry.” That’s in reference to the refusal to negotiate as well as the tit-for-tat over the State of the Union speech and CODELs figures into this. Allahpundit noted earlier that our political class is “pure trash,” and the prospect of 535 elected officials with the ability to bridge this gap sitting around waiting for a disaster to change the calculation emphasizes that conclusion. Pageantry, indeed.

By the way, Pelosi’s “power play” isn’t looking so good to the rank and file. One aide to a House Democrat called it “pointless”:

And yet for her and many of her colleagues on the Hill, she told me, “the mood is general depression.” She’d found Pelosi’s latest stunt—disinviting Trump from the State of the Union—“pointless,” and she longed for a bipartisan deal that would let her get back to work on a proactive policy agenda.

She was trying to stay upbeat, she told me. “But it’s pretty bad,” she said. “I’ve been in D.C. nine years, and I’ve never seen people this miserable.”

Speaking of miserable, be sure to read through all of the suggestions for disasters that might change the ground on the standoff over a request that amounts to 0.12% of the federal budget. If there’s any light at the end of this tunnel, it’s that it probably won’t require a fatal disaster to break the logjam. The secondary and tertiary impacts of the shutdown will begin to pick up steam, especially as air travel snarls go longer and wider. Federal workers will get their back pay eventually, but all of the places they spend it might not recover lost sales. At some point, that pressure will start getting felt in Washington and force a return to the negotiating table — if not by Pelosi and Trump, then by other members in the House and Senate.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) calls the entire spectacle “petty,” including the cancellation of the SOTU and the CODELs. “It’s time that we actually act like adults,” Kinzinger told CNN this morning, and stop trying to contest the next presidential election as is obviously the case in this standoff. No one’s going to win a total victory in this process, and it’s time that both sides realize it before disaster really does strike. Or better yet, we can hope that politicians realize that compromise isn’t the equivalent or worse than actual disasters … especially this far from the next election.

The post Capitol Hill wonders: What kind of disaster will end this shutdown? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Trump to Mnuchin: Your junket to Davos is canceled too, pal

Westlake Legal Group mnuchin-plane Trump to Mnuchin: Your junket to Davos is canceled too, pal World Economic Forum The Blog Steve Mnuchin Nancy Pelosi Government Shutdown Fundraising donald trump Davos canceled

First the State of the Union address gets canceled, and then all CODELs get grounded. Now the US delegation to the World Economic Forum has its wings clipped. Maybe government shutdowns should happen more often!

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin got a similar message from Sarah Huckabee Sanders as Nancy Pelosi did from Donald Trump yesterday, albeit it with a bit more lead time. Was Mnuchin on the bus when this went out? I’d guess no:

The White House on Thursday scrapped a scheduled trip by several Cabinet officials to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, citing the partial government shutdown. …

“Out of consideration for the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay and to ensure his team can assist as needed, President Trump has canceled his delegation’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

At least that spreads the impact to both the executive and legislative branches. If the two branches can’t agree on funding packages to open a significant portion of the federal government, the least they can do is stick around Washington DC rather than jet around the world on the taxpayers’ dime. Even if that means all they do is sit around the Beltway and glower at each other. Or maybe especially if it means that’s all they do.

Thus far, the only things lost by public officials (as opposed to employees and customers) in this shutdown are grandstanding privileges and junkets. The perks of privilege undoubtedly have some substantive value, but if one goes because of the crisis, they should all go. For Mnuchin and the Davos junket team, it’s strictly symbolic, as none of them have much to do with budget negotiations in this shutdown. When it comes to CODELs, it’s a different story, as Trump reminded everyone this morning:

Canceling the Davos delegation allows Trump to argue that he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Speaking of money, however, he’s also putting his mouth where the cash is:

“THE STATE OF THE UNION IS NOT FOR LIBERAL OBSTRUCTIONISTS,” the letter from the president blares in characteristic bolded all-caps. “IT IS FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!”

President Trump’s joint fundraising committee blasted out an email blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for “illegitimately ‘disinviting’” the president from making his State of the Union address. Then Trump asked his supporters for some money.

“Americans DEMAND the truth, so we need to make a CLEAR STATEMENT and raise $1,OOO,OOO by Midnight TONIGHT to show your support for Border Security (the REAL security concern),” reads the kicker. Small donors are obviously the target because the note then includes options to contribute anywhere from $5 to $20 dollars.

Undoubtedly, both sides will be using this as an opportunity for fundraising, but Trump will likely have the edge in this case. He needs to rally his base hard for this effort, and they’re more passionate about supporting a wall than opponents likely are about not allowing one to be built. More importantly, as Philip Wegmann pointed out last night, it demonstrates how deeply dug into this trench Trump has become, and how difficult it will be to move negotiations in the short term. Expect plenty of glowering over the next couple of weeks.

Even if we do get a faster resolution to the standoff, can we just pretend it’s still ongoing? That way we can dispense with the dreadful and embarrassing State of the Union spectacle, self-serving CODELs, and pointless participation in “economic forums” junkets.

The post Trump to Mnuchin: Your junket to Davos is canceled too, pal appeared first on Hot Air.

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Buzzfeed reporter: No, we haven’t actually *seen* evidence Trump suborned perjury, but …

Westlake Legal Group cnn-cormier Buzzfeed reporter: No, we haven’t actually *seen* evidence Trump suborned perjury, but … The Blog Michael Cohen Jason Leopold donald trump CNN Buzzfeed Anthony Cormier alisyn camerota

It’s not the first time a major media outlet has reported on documents without seeing them, but this one might have created the biggest potential for backfire. Buzzfeed’s huge scoop alleging that evidence existed of Donald Trump ordering Michael Cohen to commit perjury left “room for skepticism,” as I noted earlier. Surprisingly, CNN picked up that thread to drill Buzzfeed reporter Anthony Cormier on his sourcing — and on the credibility of his colleague Jason Leopold, who got another special-counsel scoop spectacularly wrong in 2006.

Cormier insisted that “I am rock solid” on this report, even though he hadn’t seen the source materials himself, Colby Hall notes for Mediaite:

Cormier appeared on CNN’s New Day and revealed that he had not seen the evidence underlying his report.

Host Alisyn Camerota opened the interview by asking Cormier if he had seen the evidence to which Cormier replied: “Not personally.” He then clarified that “the folks we have talked to — two officials we have spoken to are fully, 100 percent read into that aspect of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

The two sources on which Cormier relied were part of the investigation into Trump’s real-estate projects in Russia prior to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, he tells Camerota. His reporting is based on “302 reports,” the post-interrogation format used by FBI agents, and “a number of different documents.” If that’s the case, though, the sources would have been out of the loop for almost two years — unless they’re currently working for Mueller. Cormier claims that they’re “fully read into” the case, but he’s at best non-specific about it.

That presents more than one credibility issue. Why would these sources leak this out now, after sitting on it for almost two years? And why would they leak it out while Mueller’s team is still conducting its investigation? Are they worried that Mueller didn’t come to the same conclusions after seeing the filings in the Cohen case? Don’t forget that Cormier is relying strictly on the interpretation of these documents by his sources, not having seen the documents for himself. And those sources may have axes to grind that anonymity keeps veiled.

Camerota adds another reason to be skeptical — Leopold’s track record on special-counsel “scoops”:

Camerota asked Cormier of the “dubious past” of his co-author Jason Leopold who came under scrutiny for faulting reporting for Salon 2002 that led to an article getting removed. In 2006 he incorrectly reported that Karl Rove had been indicted.

“He was in trouble for perhaps claiming to have sources he really didn’t have. His stories didn’t wash. Executive directors and editors have had to apologize after some of his big blockbuster stories,” Camerota noted, before asking” How can you be certain today?”

Cormier fiercely defended his “rock solid” sourcing on this story.

“My sourcing on this goes beyond the two on the record,” Cormier told Camerota, adding “It’s 100 percent. I am the individual who confirmed and verified that it I am telling you our sourcing goes beyond the two I was able to put on the record. We were able to gather information from individuals who know this happened. ”

Well, maybe, but without actually seeing the documents? That puts several degrees of weakness into the reliability of this report. That’s not to say it’s wrong, but it doesn’t add much confidence that Buzzfeed got this right, either. Leopold’s not the only credibility question here either, as Buzzfeed has a track record of publishing first without much concern over whether its material is truthful even when they have seen it. They may have prevailed in the defamation suit over the notorious Christopher Steele dossier, but it wasn’t on the basis that the source material was credible or reliable.

Regardless, the House Intelligence Committee will still pick this up and run with it, and now the House Judiciary Committee will also take a look at it. If Cormier’s correct and he got this “rock solid,” then Trump is in deep, deep trouble … but perhaps we should wait to see what the 302s and “different documents” actually say before reaching a conclusion on subornation of perjury and obstruction. Kudos to Camerota for her own skepticism on this report and its sourcing.

The post Buzzfeed reporter: No, we haven’t actually *seen* evidence Trump suborned perjury, but … appeared first on Hot Air.

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Hmm: North Korea envoy lands in Washington while “secret talks” take place in Stockholm

Westlake Legal Group TrumpKim Hmm: North Korea envoy lands in Washington while “secret talks” take place in Stockholm The Blog summit North Korea Mike Pompeo Kim Yong-chol Kim Jong-un donald trump

After a few months of relative stasis, engagement with North Korea has shifted into high gear — on two fronts. A top military figure from Pyongyang arrived in Washington last night after a first trip got canceled two months ago. Neither side announced the arrival of General Kim Yong Chol, the first such visit to DC in a generation:

A top North Korean general was paying a rare visit Friday to Washington, where he is expected to meet President Donald Trump to finalize a new summit aimed at denuclearization and easing decades of hostility.

Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to leader Kim Jong Un, is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades known to have spent the night in the US capital, little more than a year after Trump was threatening to wipe the totalitarian state off the map.

Kim was supposed to visit in November to meet with Mike Pompeo in New York. That got called off as both governments accused each other of negotiating in bad faith. Kim will meet with Pompeo later today, according to AFP, although privately rather than with the normal pomp of a diplomatic mission.

Presumably this meeting will attempt to plan the next summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, a summit that both leaders have publicly embraced, although it’s almost certainly going to be a venue for pursuing the complete, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear disarmament (CVID) that Pompeo insists must take place before sanctions are lifted.

That brings us to the other development on the other side of the Atlantic. Secret talks have opened in Sweden between US and North Korean delegations, reports the Associated Press, although the topic of the talks has not been disclosed:

Envoys from the United States and North Korea took part in an unannounced high-level meeting in Stockholm on Friday, an official said.

Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Diana Kudhaib said the talks included North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui but declined to give further details. Sweden’s TT news agency said U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom also were attending.

The Swedish foreign minister cast these as just “talks in a minor format” involving “international experts,” but any contact between the US and North Korea is notable. The AP reminds readers that a similar meeting took place just before the two countries announced the first Trump-Kim summit in March of last year. The juxtaposition of both meetings suggest that some momentum has been regained in the effort to improve relations. Whether that only relates to a second summit or something more substantial is yet to be seen.

At this point, however, it should be more substantial than just another personal meeting. There was some value in holding the first one on its own merits, simply to change the tenor of the relationship. Proper form, however, would have two heads of state meeting only when there is some agreement to conclude in place. It need not be a comprehensive agreement, but a second summit would have to be more than just a social call to be seen as worthy of all the effort it takes to pull one together. A repeat of the first summit would be a disappointment. That may be why we’re seeing action again on parallel tracks — one for the summit, and another for a more substantial achievement than a handshake.

CNN’s Will Ripley reports that Kim Yong Chol will bring a response from Kim Jong-un to a personal note sent by Trump earlier. Will they have an announcement for a summit date and location? Or will there be something more? Yesterday’s assessment of Pyongyang’s missile threat might complicate matters somewhat, Ripley suggests, and he also notes that a summit-only announcement would look “weak” for prospects of a lasting peace.

The post Hmm: North Korea envoy lands in Washington while “secret talks” take place in Stockholm appeared first on Hot Air.

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Does Mueller have evidence Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress?

Westlake Legal Group cohen-plea Does Mueller have evidence Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress? The Blog subornation of perjury Russia Robert Mueller perjury Michael Cohen donald trump Buzzfeed

Firing James Comey does not amount to obstruction of justice. Telling Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a real-estate deal in Russia almost certainly would be. Buzzfeed reported last night that Donald Trump “personally instructed” his personal attorney to give the false testimony to intelligence committees in both chambers that resulted in a three-year sentence for Cohen.

If true, this is a very big problem for the White House, but there’s at least a little room for skepticism:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. …

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

Is it true, however? Buzzfeed claims that the special counsel already has the goods on this particular point:

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

CNN also wonders whether it’s true. If it is, former FBI agent Asha Rangappa notes, Mueller would likely have it cold:

This thread has been building for some time, ever since Cohen began cooperating with prosecutors. A few weeks ago, Cohen claimed to have been in “close and regular contact” with administration officials while preparing his congressional testimony, part of his filing to reduce his sentence after his plea deal. At the time, it sounded as though Cohen was accusing White House staff and lawyers of suborning perjury. However, if this report is true, then the suborning came from the highest point on the White House org chart.

That filing, however, is where some room for skepticism emerges. If Trump told Cohen to lie, why not just say so in the filing? Why not just tell the judge that he got instructed to lie by President Trump — or “Individual-1,” the reference used in filings for Cohen’s case? That would certainly be a lot more interesting than just a passive implication of subornation by White House staff, which is what Cohen’s filing suggested. If Cohen really wanted a sentence reduction, that certainly would have gotten the judge’s attention. And for that matter, why sentence Cohen at all at that point if Trump suborned perjury? One would expect a prosecutor to hold off sentencing for a major material witness until after a trial, in order to ensure that the witness didn’t change his story — especially one with a track record of changing stories, like Cohen.

Needless to say, the House Intelligence Committee under Democratic leadership has taken a keen interest in finding the answers to those and other questions:

“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” committee chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.” …

Other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee agreed that the new revelation about Trump’s involvement in the Moscow project and Cohen’s testimony should be investigated as part of the panel’s reinvigorated Russia inquiry. Democrats, who won control of the House and its committees in November, plan to restart the probe in the weeks ahead after Republicans shuttered it last year.

“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I believe Congress should immediately investigate Michael Cohen’s claim, based on this reporting, that the President directed him to lie to Congress during its Russia investigation,” Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas told BuzzFeed News. “Such an instruction would amount to obstruction of justice.”

They may have to wait for Mueller to finish his probe to start digging around for the evidence that Rangappa assumes the special counsel has for this claim. Otherwise it might end up crossing up Mueller’s investigators as they try to conclude their probe. If they do get evidence of subornation of perjury, it’s a clear predicate for impeachment, especially given the separation-of-powers issue in having a president instruct people to lie to Congress. That kind of violation might even get a few Senate Republicans to consider removal.

But it’s still an if, and a curiously late development in the Michael Cohen arc of this saga. If it has any legs, we’ll know next month when Cohen testifies to the House Oversight Committee, unless Mueller files his report first.

The post Does Mueller have evidence Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Trump: We’re “100%” behind NATO even if they’re behind on investment

Westlake Legal Group trump-pentagon Trump: We’re “100%” behind NATO even if they’re behind on investment The Blog Pentagon NATO missile defense donald trump

Donald Trump may not like the New York Times, but he — or his White House team — keeps up with it. Two days ago, the NYT reported that Trump had spoken “repeatedly” about withdrawing the US from NATO. In a Pentagon speech earlier today that focused mainly on missile defense, Trump went out of his way to show his support for NATO — while needling the other members over their lack of contributions:

President Donald Trump said Thursday the United States is fully committed to NATO but repeated his insistence that other members pay more for their own security.

“We will be with NATO 100 percent, but as I told the countries, you have to step up and you have to pay,” Trump said in a speech at the Pentagon.

Trump didn’t exactly make nice with our European allies. He accused them of playing the US for “fools” as they failed to meet their security-funding commitments. That part of the relationship will come to an end, Trump promised:

On Thursday, Trump repeated his view that close allies had been taking advantage of the US security umbrella for decades and that it was his mission to stop that.

“We cannot be the fools for others. We cannot be. We don’t want to be called that. And I will tell you for many years behind your backs, that is what they were saying,” Trump said.

So yes, it’s not all sweetness and light from Trump to NATO, certainly. This is no different than his normal criticisms of NATO, however, and certainly not as bad as when he questioned the commitment to Article V during his campaign. It’s tough to say whether Trump would impulsively announce a withdrawal, but it seems unlikely, especially since Congress would almost certainly balk on a broad, bipartisan basis.

It’s not the first time that an American administration has made this an issue, either. Barack Obama complained about “free riders” in 2016, and five years earlier his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a specific warning to NATO shortly after his retirement in 2011:

The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.

Trump’s declaring that the time Gates predicted has arrived — at least for him. Trump’s efforts here might be in service to a “madman” strategy — keep NATO worried enough about it to finally act on its pledges, but not madman enough to encourage hostile action. His endorsement of NATO today echoes similar patterns of warnings and assurances that Trump has issued while pressing for better contributions. This part of the speech was oddly absent from the Paper of Record’s report, which focused more on Trump’s other themes, especially missile defense:

President Trump announced Thursday the results of a missile defense review that he said would update a decades-old system and protect the United States from emerging threats — adopting a Cold War stance while also promoting futuristic ambitions with his much-touted Space Force.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Trump said the strategy would help deter hostile states — including Iran, which he said “is a much different country” now than when he took office.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place.”

In opening the forum, acting SecDef Patrick Shanahan emphasized the need for new systems and operations to meet the challenge of missile threats around the world. And that means going beyond defensive systems:

“Our nation does not seek adversaries, but we do not ignore them, either,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday, noting that a missile defense strategy requires offense.

Space is key to that missile defense strategy, Shanahan said Thursday, in an announcement that comes as Mr. Trump is working on plans for a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the military.

The Trump administration recently completed its review of what it is describing as the United States’ first “major” and “comprehensive” review of the United States’ missile defense policies and capabilities since 2010. One senior administration official explained to reporters in a conference call Wednesday that a “significant change to the threat environment” has been seen in recent years.

“What the missile defense review responds to is an environment which our potential adversaries have been rapidly developing and fielding, a much more expanded range of new advance offensive missiles,” the senior administration told reporters. “Some of these missiles are capable of threatening the United States, threatening our allies, our partners.”

Including NATO, of course. They’re more focused on threats from “rogue states” than established nuclear states like Russia and China. Trump cited Iran explicitly in his speech, but CBS notes that no one wants to discuss North Korea’s status at this point. Instead, their White House sources would only say that the review addresses the “comprehensive environment” of threats to the US.

The full speech can be seen here, including brief introductory remarks from Shanahan and Vice President Mike Pence.

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Pelosi: Why no, I’m not denying Trump a platform by canceling SOTU

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No? How about a dais? A riser? CNN’s Manu Raju asked the question that John Sexton raised yesterday. Isn’t her “suggestion” to postpone or cancel the State of the Union address just another form of deplatforming by the Left to prevent speech they don’t like? Not at all, Pelosi replied. She just doesn’t think Donald Trump should speak until federal workers get paid:

It’s “deplatforming” in a literal and immediate sense, although it’s questionable in the normal political sense in which the term is generally used. Pelosi is literally denying Trump a platform for the specific appearance set for January 29th. Usually, though, “deplatforming” suggests something a little more permanent, such as the result of the pitchfork-and-torch brigade’s efforts to get Kevin Williamson fired at The Atlantic for work he’d done years earlier. It’s also a bit more applicable on college campuses that force cancellations of conservative speakers, which tends to be a chronic condition rather than a one-off.

At least Pelosi has changed her tune on motive. Yesterday she claimed that she wanted the SOTU event postponed or canceled because of security concerns, but the Department of Homeland Security said they were fully capable of securing the event, shutdown or no. Today it’s all about getting federal employees paid, which transforms this from a security issue to a hardball and unprecedented negotiating tactic.

And that’s a change that matters. No previous president has had to overcome a policy difference in order to address a joint session of Congress, even in circumstances where the Speaker is from the opposing party. Joint sessions for presidential addresses (SOTUs and others) are an institutional tradition, or at least they were. If Pelosi now wants to treat this as a political spoil to be negotiated, then she should get used to questions about deplatforming on the basis of ideological conflict.

By the way, the Trump administration is working hard on expanding the universe of federal employees working without pay in the shutdown:

“It’s time for the Democrats to negotiate,” Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget who helped lead the effort to recall I.R.S. employees, recently said. “In the meantime, we will make this shutdown as painless as possible, consistent with the law.”

That last phrase — consistent with the law — has proved crucial for a team of 12 lawyers working under Mr. Vought. In past shutdowns, only workers deemed “essential” to protecting life and property — a category that would include people like Secret Service agents — were allowed to work.

But the budget office is now focused on Justice Department guidance, issued by previous administrations, that would broaden who is considered essential, using lesser known exceptions to call back thousands of employees to perform duties like preparing taxes or opening mail.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said lawyers were relying on guidance issued during past shutdowns, including a Clinton-era contingency plan that allows exceptions for workers whose duties do not rely on yearly appropriations.

At the basis of this, of course, is the utter refusal by both sides to come off even an iota from their original bargaining positions. Trump still wants his $5 billion, and Pelosi still doesn’t want a wall. She emphasized that in the same presser. She’s not for a wall, and so she’s also not for paying federal employees as long as Trump insists on getting funding for one. And the beat goes on.

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WSJ: Cohen defrauded Trump on cooked reimbursement claims

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Next month, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen will testify before the House Oversight Committee to reveal all the dirt he knows about his former boss. Today, the Wall Street Journal helped deliver a message — turnabout is fair play. A former contractor for Donald Trump’s public-relations efforts claims that Cohen stiffed him for all but $13,000 of a $50,000 bill, while federal prosecutors show that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the entire $50K.

Gee, I wonder where the WSJ got this information? Hmmmm….

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said. …

Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president.

Mr. Gauger said he never got the rest of what he claimed he was owed. But Mr. Cohen in early 2017 still asked for—and received—a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by RedFinch, according to a government document and a person familiar with the matter. The reimbursement—made on the sole basis of a handwritten note from Mr. Cohen and paid largely out of Mr. Trump’s personal account—demonstrates the level of trust the lawyer once had within the Trump Organization, whose officials arranged the repayment.

The takeaway to this is that Cohen lifted $36K+ and stuck it in his own pocket. Whether that’s what actually happened would have to be determined in court, but it might explain why Robert Mueller’s team lost interest in Cohen early in their probe. Not only does it undermine Cohen’s credibility as a witness, it might make it easier to believe that anything done underhandedly was by Cohen himself without Trump’s knowledge. After all, one could argue, Trump got fleeced on this deal by Cohen without blinking an eye.

There’s another problem with this transaction for Cohen too, beyond potential tax violations. Cohen billed this as tech services to the Trump Organization, not the campaign, without disclosing the nature of the work. As UCI professor and campaign-finance expert Richard Hasen tells the WSJ, that should have been disclosed by Cohen as an independent expenditure. That’s clearly a lesser issue than potential embezzlement, but it shows that Cohen was skirting campaign-finance regulations well before Stormy Daniels got paid off.

Not only did Cohen allegedly pocket money in the RedFinch relationship, Gauger claims Cohen wanted Gauger to promote Cohen at Trump’s literal expense. Cohen wanted to lift his own profile as — wait for it — a sex symbol. No, really:

During the presidential race, Mr. Cohen also asked Mr. Gauger to create a Twitter account called @WomenForCohen. The account, created in May 2016 and run by a female friend of Mr. Gauger, described Mr. Cohen as a “sex symbol,” praised his looks and character, and promoted his appearances and statements boosting Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

Er … yeeaahhh.

Cohen’s not exactly denying the story this morning, either:

The “sole benefit”? If the details in the WSJ report are accurate, then no, it wouldn’t have been the “sole benefit.” Those make it look a lot like Cohen was benefiting plenty from his relationship with Trump, both above- and below-board. And maybe even below-belt. Yeesh.

Even so, the timing of this broadside against Cohen can’t be ignored. Trump and his team know how much Cohen can hurt them, politically if not legally. They’re opening up the books to destroy Cohen’s credibility and make him next to worthless as a witness at his congressional hearing next month. Those motives are clear enough that news media outlets will have to take care to scrupulously verify claims coming to them from Cohen’s political enemies. The WSJ seems to have done that well enough to keep Cohen from issuing a flat denial today. We’ll have to see what else Cohen won’t be able to deny as the hearings come closer.

Addendum: Just as an aside, do campaigns really spend $50K to rig online polls? If so … we’ll have to start featuring more of them. Here’s one for today, and anyone feeling the need to rig it can inquire on the tips line as to where to send my check. Your answers on #2 and #3 might determine my negotiating position, of course, especially #2.

Update: Another possible half-defense from Cohen is that he could claim the difference was how Trump was reimbursing him for payoffs under the table. That may not hold up, though, because the payoffs to mistresses before the presidential campaign wouldn’t have mattered. Plus, you don’t stiff the contractor on those — you make arrangements for inflated invoicing up front.

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