DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “hasn’t seen” intel showing Russia pushed for Trump win

Following a classified election security briefing for all House members, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she “hasn’t seen” a conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia’s intent in meddling in the 2016 election was to help Donald Trump win the presidency and to hurt Hillary Clinton. Nielsen was pressed about the January Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, endorsed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion, that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I’m not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment,” Nielsen told reporters following the briefing. Nielsen joined FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Nielsen added, “What we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides. So we’ve seen them encourage people go to a protest on one side; we’ve seen them simultaneously encourage people to go to that same protest on the other side. So I think what they’re trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what’s happening. It’s an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American’s behavior in what they’re voting for.”

Her comments contrast with the intelligence community’s report that Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

“We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment,” the report’s conclusion found.

[CBS News]

Trump nominates homophobic former Family Research Council chief to board of ‘religious freedom’ crusaders

It was announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump nominated Gary Bauer to be the latest member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Bauer once led the Family Research Council, the anti-LGBT organization that advocates that homosexuals are harmful to society. The group has even been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Before that, Bauer was known for his opposition to having an LGBT advisor to former President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the 1980s.

“Millions of Americans try to raise their children to believe that homosexuality is immoral,” he wrote in a 1987 memo. “In many states homosexual practices are illegal, including sodomy. For you to appoint a known homosexual to a Presidential Commission will give homosexuality a stamp of acceptability. It will drive a wedge between us and many of our socially conservative supporters.”

Candidate Donald Trump boasted of his support for LGBT Americans during the 2016 campaign.

“Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” Trump even wrote in a June, 2016 tweet.

[Raw Story]

Scott Pruitt and a crew of EPA aides spent four days in Morocco promoting natural gas

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt returned Wednesday from a trip to Morocco, where he talked with officials about their interest in importing natural gas as well as other areas of “continued cooperation” between the two countries.

The EPA disclosed the trip late Tuesday, issuing a media release that included photos and a statement from Pruitt saying that the visit “allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders.”

“We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world,” Pruitt said.

The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Pruitt took along seven aides and an undisclosed number of staff from his protective detail. The group included four political aides, including Samantha Dravis, associate administrator of the Office of Policy, and senior advisers Sarah Greenwalt and Lincoln Ferguson, as well as one career official, Jane Nishida, principal deputy assistant administrator of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Pruitt’s head of security determines how many advance staffers travel on any given trip, EPA officials said, and in this instance it was two.

At the request of Senate Democrats, the EPA inspector general is looking into Pruitt’s use of military and private flights, as well as his frequent visits to his home state of Oklahoma during his first few months on the job.

“It seems strange that Administrator Pruitt would prioritize a trip to Morocco to discuss natural gas exports while there is no shortage of more pressing issues here in the U.S. that actually fall within the jurisdiction of the agency he leads,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I presume Mr. Pruitt is aware his agency’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into his questionable travel, which makes his decision to take this trip an odd choice at best.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that Pruitt “acts like he is a globe-trotting salesman for the fossil fuel industry who can make taxpayers foot the bill.”

Pruitt traveled in business class for three flights, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal agency matter, and in economy class for two flights. Asked about the travel arrangements, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox replied in an email, “Due to concerns from our security team, Administrator Pruitt was granted a waiver by EPA’s Chief Financial Officer to fly business-class.”

Wilcox said he could not provide the trip’s total cost because the travelers’ arrangements were booked through their respective departments.

Pruitt met with three top Moroccan officials, according to the agency statement, including the minister of energy, mines and sustainable development; the minister of justice and liberties; and the secretary of state to the minister of foreign affairs. Wilcox said Pruitt “discussed our bilateral free trade agreement, solid waste response, disaster relief and communications with top Moroccan officials.”

His visit came shortly after the EPA held a workshop in Rabat about solid waste management, public participation and crisis communication.

Morocco, the only African country with which the United States has a free-trade agreement, is a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and has collaborated in the past with U.S. officials on its push to expand domestic solar energy production. During the trip, Moroccan officials took Pruitt on a tour of the IRESEN Green Energy Park, which the EPA said showed the administrator “firsthand the work being done to promote environmental innovation, including solar energy across Morocco.”

[Washington Post]

Top staffer at a pro-Trump super PAC doubles down on claim that black people are ‘statistically’ lazier than whites

Carl Higbie, a former Trump administration official who now works as a high-ranking staffer at a super PAC connected to the president’s agenda distanced himself from racist comments he made on the radio that led to his resignation in January. Now, however, he is doubling down on his claim that black people are “statistically” lazier than whites and claiming the comments were taken out of context.

CNN’s KFILE, the blog that originally revealed the America First Policies’ staffer’s numerous bigoted comments, reported Tuesday that Higbie has since recanted his apology for the remarks he made on his radio show in 2013 and 2014. During those shows, Higbie said he believes “wholeheartedly” that the “black race as a whole” are lazier than white people. He also claimed black women use welfare “as a form of employment,” and that he doesn’t like Muslims because their “ideology sucks.”

When resigning from his position leading the government program that sponsors Americorps, Higbie said that his comments from years prior “do not reflect who I am or what I stand for” and claimed to “regret saying them.”

During a radio appearance on Friday, however, the former Trump administration official said he stands by his comments.

“They dig up a couple things, a couple. Look, I had a radio show,” Higbie told Virginia talk radio DJ John Fredericks. “How many times have you said something on radio that could possibly be construed as very controversial when taken completely out of context? What, daily?”

Higbie went on to tout his time spent “in low-income, urban minority communities” as well as his “mission trips in high school to Dominican Republic, Central America [and] South America” before saying he made a “statistical observation” about black people as a race.

“It fit their narrative,” he said of KFILE’s reporting that led to his resignation. “And because I made a statistical observation, they think that’s racist.”

CNN noted that America First Policies, Higbie’s employer, has hosted a number of events that have been attended by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who is scheduled to attend another such event tonight where the staffer will reportedly be. The super PAC also used to employ Pence’s chief of staff before he took his job in the White House.

[Raw Story]

White House blames ‘typo’ for major claim on Iran’s nuclear program

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday blamed a “typo” for a controversial statement issued late Monday that initially said Iran currently “has” a secret nuclear program — a conclusion that would have major implications for the Iran nuclear deal.

In the statement issued under Sanders’ name, the Trump administration originally wrote that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” a position that conflicted with international monitors who have found Iran to be in compliance with the landmark nuclear deal it signed with other nations, including the U.S., in 2015.

The statement was later amended online to switch to the past tense, that “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” On the White House website, the statement is published without a correction or other acknowledgment of the error, and a corrected email was not sent to reporters.

“We think the biggest mistake that was made was under the Obama administration by ever entering the deal that you referenced in the first place,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. “The typo that you referenced was noticed, immediately corrected and we are focused on moving forward on the safety and security of our country.”

The White House statement came in response to a Monday presentation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal, lambasting the agreement and accusing the Iranian government of deceiving the international community on the subject of its nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s presentation was met with skepticism by many who argued that it contained little new information, and Sanders, in her Monday statement, said “the United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully.”

Despite having to defend the White House’s edited statement, Sanders still went on the offensive at Tuesday’s briefing, slamming the Iran deal that the president has often threatened to withdraw the U.S. from.

“The problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end. They were dishonest actors and so the deal that was made was made on things that weren’t accurate and we have a big problem with that,” she said.

[Politico]

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Democrats Voting Against Pompeo Don’t ‘Love’ America

As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to vote on President Donald Trump’s secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on Fox & Friends Monday morning and accused anyone planning to vote against him of being unpatriotic.

“Look, at some point, Democrats have to decide whether they love this country more than they hate this president,” Sanders said on Fox News. “And they have to decide that they want to put the safety and the security and the diplomacy of our country ahead of their own political games. And we’re very hopeful that they will.”

Sanders cited the fact that Pompeo was “top of his class” at Harvard and “first in his class” at Westpoint, but those credentials have little to do with the opposition to Pompeo from every Democratic member of the committee in addition to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

During his confirmations hearings earlier this month, Pompeo was forced to defend his hawkish positions on Iran and Russia and refused to apologize for Islamophobic comments he had made in the past. “My record is exquisite with respect to treating each and every faith with the dignity that they deserved,” the current CIA director insisted.

Last fall, Pompeo delivered false and misleading statements about the intelligence community’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election. While Pompeo said at a security conference, “The intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election,” the official report directly stated, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

“Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State,” President Trump tweeted on Monday, shortly after his press secretary’s appearance on Fox & Friends. “The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!”

[Daily Beast]

Media

Trump Judicial Nominee Appears to Have Called Undocumented Immigrants “Maggots”

Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of Michael Truncale, whom Donald Trump selected to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. A longtime Republican donor and activist, Truncale built his career opposing progressive policies, including the Affordable Care Act, gun control, and abortion access. He also appears to have referred to undocumented immigrants as “maggots.”

Truncale made this comment in 2012, when running for Congress in Texas’ 14th Congressional District, a seat that came open upon the retirement of Rep. Ron Paul. (He ultimately lost, coming in third place in the GOP primary.) During a candidate forum hosted by the Galveston County Republican Party and the Republican Network of Galveston County, Truncale said that the state’s Southern border is “very porous.” He continued:

And as a result of the nature of that border we have all sort of bad influences coming in. We have drugs, we have illegal gangs, there is the possibility of bombs from a host of other countries and people from overseas and we must secure that border. I think we should do it with boots on the ground. As a citizen taxpayer, I think that we should take some of the equipment that is coming back from Iraq that citizens have already paid for and instead of sending it to some warehouse in Nebraska or some place, let’s get it to the border patrol. … There can be some fencing, there can be electronic surveillance, and things of that nature to secure the border. But that’s the first thing.

Truncale then added that “with regard to immigration, we must not continue to have the maggots coming in.”

It is difficult to read this statement, first flagged by Harsh Voruganti of the nonpartisan legal blog the Vetting Room, as anything other than a reference to undocumented immigrants. The apparent slur raises obvious questions about Truncale’s impartiality in cases involving Latinos and immigrants, as well as his overall fitness for the bench. Judges may hold strong feelings about border security. But Truncale’s decision to publicly malign unauthorized immigrants raises doubts about his ability to separate personal prejudices from his professional duties.

In that respect, Truncale resembles Jeff Mateer, Trump’s previous nominee to the Eastern District of Texas. Mateer notoriously calledtransgender children part of “Satan’s plan.” (The White House eventually withdrew his nomination.) Like Mateer, Truncale was recommended to Trump by Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. Presumably, Cruz and Cornyn chose him because of his enduring support for the GOP: Truncale served on the executive committee of the Texas Republican Party from 2006 to 2014 and has donated nearly $7,000 to Cornyn’s campaigns over the past dozen years. (He also gave Cruz $1,000 in 2015.) Moreover, Truncale served as a Republican delegate for John McCain in 2008 and volunteered for the Trump campaign. (He has spent his legal career at the firm Orgain, Bell & Tucker, practicing civil defense and white-collar criminal defense.)

Cornyn and Cruz might’ve hoped that Truncale would prove to be less controversial than Mateer. But he is likely to face tough questions at his hearing next week, as Democrats and some Republicans have lost their patience with openly biased nominees.

[Slate]

Senate Confirms Climate Change Denier To Lead NASA

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a former Navy pilot with no scientific credentials and who doesn’t believe humans are primarily to blame for the global climate crisis, to lead NASA.

Bridenstine will become the first elected official to hold the NASA administrator job. He joins a Cabinet already loaded with people who question the near-universal scientific consensus that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause.

The final vote ― which was 50-49 along party lines ― came one day after the Senate narrowly advanced Bridenstine’s nomination, thanks to an about-face from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a key vote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Rubio, who in September told Politico that he worried about Bridenstine’s nomination “could be devastating for the space program,” said in a statement Wednesday that he decided to support the nominee in order to avoid “a gaping leadership void” at NASA.

Much like the procedural vote on Wednesday, which was temporarily deadlocked at 49-49, Thursday’s confirmation ultimately hinged on Flake, who voted in favor only after a bit of drama that included a long discussion with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and stepping out for a phone call, as CNN’s Manu Raju reports.

Bridenstine will replace Robert Lightfoot Jr., who has been serving as acting administrator since previous NASA administrator, Charles Bolden Jr., resigned from his post in January.

In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Bridenstine said he is humbled by the opportunity. “I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the President’s vision for American leadership in space,” he said.

[Huffington Post]

Pruitt met with lobbyist whose wife rented him condo

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a $50-a-night condo in Washington, D.C.

J. Steven Hart, a lobbyist for Williams & Jensen, set up the meeting with Pruitt on behalf of executive associated with Smithfield Foods, a large pork producer.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Hart had reached out to the EPA on behalf of a client, Smithfield Foods, contradicting Hart’s previous claims that he had not lobbied Pruitt’s agency last year or in 2018. Hart announced Saturday that he is also stepping down from the firm.

On Saturday, Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Hart, confirmed to The Hill that Hart in fact met personally with Pruitt in 2017 alongside Smithfield Foods’s former vice president Dennis Treacy.

The personal meeting was first reported by The New York Times.

Both Hart and Smithfield Food, however, deny that the meeting was to lobby on behalf of the company. A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods said that Hart’s work was instead a personal action on behalf of Treacy, the Times reported.

Both men claim the meeting was about the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which they are members of. The group works to improve water quality in the bay.

Hart says his work was not on behalf of Smithfield Foods and that he was not compensated for his work.

Pruitt has faced scrutiny in recent days for a number of controversies raising ethics questions, including his rental of a condo from Hart’s wife. He paid $50 a night and only paid for nights he stayed in the unit.

[The Hill]

Trump Reportedly Growing Suspicious of UN Amb Nikki Haley’s Ambitions, Possibly For His Job

President Trump may have a bone to pick with yet another member of his administration: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

A new report from The New York Times alleges that the president “grew angry” at Haley’s Sunday show appearances, specifically when she stated that the U.S. would be placing fresh new sanctions against Russia. However, he supposedly is questioning her “political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.”

Since the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Haley has become the face of foreign policy, especially since the chemical attack that took place in Syria. However, the White House has been keeping her out of the loop, which led to the public dustup between her and WH economic advisor Larry Kudlow.

But according to administration officials and insiders, he has “grown exasperated by her outspokenness” about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Who wrote that for her?” Mr. Trump reported yelled at his television during a Sunday show appearance. “Who wrote that for her?”

Per the NYT:

Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.

Aides to both scoff at such suggestions, but the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election. The talk was exacerbated in recent days when Mr. Pence named Jon Lerner, Ms. Haley’s deputy, as his new national security adviser, while allowing him to keep his job at the United Nations.

[Mediaite]

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